An August report delivered to Starkville and provided in the city’s e-packet before Sept. 2’s meeting clearly identifies “domestic partnerships” as a beneficiary to an expanded plus-one insurance package that the board first unanimously approved earlier this month and then rescinded Tuesday.
Before and after Tuesday’s policy amendment, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn slammed Mayor Parker Wiseman and Chief Administrative Officer Taylor Adams for hiding information associated the expansion that briefly offered health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
Wiseman and Adams both rebuffed the claims at the table, saying the same information they had on the issue was given to aldermen before Sept. 2’s meeting.
The two-page letter to Adams that was passed onto aldermen from Cox Consulting Services Inc. acknowledges “domestic partner dependent eligibility” with all capitalized letters at the bottom of the first page.
After amending the plus-one extension to only those spouses in state-recognized marriages, the four aldermen repeatedly said Wiseman and Adams lied to them, and the board’s trust with the current administration was broken.
The letter is still available on the city’s website and can be viewed by any alderman or member of the public. Its submission date from city staff as an agenda item was on the Friday before Sept. 2’s meeting, meaning the document was available for review before the board took the item off consent, discussed it and approved it unanimously.
If aldermen did receive the letter, they either did not read it or grasp what entails “domestic partnership,” which could include heterosexual couples who have chosen not to marry.
“Clearly it was in their packets, but they did not bring it up. I took that to mean it wasn’t an issue,” Wiseman said of the implications of potential insurance expansion for Starkville’s growing LGBT community. “It was a better insurance policy than we had before, and I think discussing the policy for what it is – one that offered broader, more flexible options for our employees – made it a very popular policy item at the time.”
Aldermen yanked same-sex partners from inclusion after an hour-long public comment session yielded debate between city religious leaders and LGBT rights supporters. Many speakers opposing the change self-identified themselves as members of the LGBT community, and some even broke down to tears over the image problems associated with Starkville’s policy change.
Clergy, however, countered their opposition with scripture, with some residents hammering the LGBT community as immoral and unnatural.
Last week, Carver and Wynn called an impromptu board meeting where the Ward 1 alderman attempted to rescind the policy, but his motion died at the table without a second.
When asked how the city moves forward from such a debate, Wiseman said he will continue to push forward the best policy decisions that will impact the most Starkville residents.
“We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and move forward as a community,” he said. “Does it hurt our image? I think it was a very difficult conversation. Sometimes government issues bring about very passionate and very painful discussions, but I think having those discussions presents us with opportunities to grow as a community.
“I sure do hope we will continue to grow,” Wiseman added.
Carver also attacked Wiseman on his perceived desire for higher office by saying the mayor set Starkville as a battleground for contentious, leftist policies.
“The long and short of it is I’m happy doing what I’m doing right now. My job is to push Starkville forward in every manner possible, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
The mayor promised to veto the matter after the board’s 4-2 vote. Only Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard Opposed. Lisa Wynn, Ward 2’s representative, said she favored the cost savings provided under the new insurance option but abstained from Tuesday’s vote.
If Wiseman vetoes, Wynn’s vote could prove pivotal in an override. City attorney Chris Latimer said he would research how an abstention would count in a veto – specifically, whether it would count toward the majority of the board’s vote or not – and brief the board as soon as possible.
Five votes are needed to override a veto.
The full Sept. 2 e-packet can be viewed at http://www.cityofstarkville.org/DocumentCenter/View/1827.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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