Starkville aldermen specifically removed same-sex partners from the city’s new plus-one insurance coverage Tuesday after an hour-long public comment session that yielded support of the move from the city’s religious base and sharp criticism from those who self-identified as members of Starkville’s LGBT community.
Mayor Parker Wiseman, who fervently defended the insurance as an all-inclusive move aimed at saving employees money, vowed to veto the board’s action as soon as possible.
His veto could come this week, but the mayor did not specifically say when he would issue the order.
Tuesday’s board amendment passed 4-2, with Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard voting against the matter. Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn, who spoke in favor of the additional cost savings the city’s new tiered coverage affords workers, abstained.
A veto requires five votes to overturn, but abstentions will count toward the majority, whether they confirm or overrule the action. It is believed Wynn could help Wiseman’s veto pass if she changes her vote, but board attorney Chris Latimer said he would spend the next few days researching the subject before conferring with the board.
As originally approved, Starkville’s new insurance policy added two new tiers of coverage for city employees. Previously, employees’ benefits were covered by the city, while they could pay an additional $600 per month to extend coverage to spouses and children. The single employee and whole-family rates remained, but are $2 cheaper per month under the new policy, while workers could, as originally approved, add an adult or their children for $348.74 or $268.95, respectively.
The city will still offer plus-one adult insurance coverage, but Tuesday’s motion restricts that to only those who are in marriages legally recognized within Mississippi. State law does not recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states.
After previously receiving national attention for passing a non-discrimination statement that specifically included language protecting LGBT workers, Starkville again made headlines when aldermen unanimously approved the new policy.
Once the Human Rights Campaign applauded the city’s extension for what it would mean to the LGBT community, aldermen called a special-call session Tuesday to again discuss the matter. In that meeting, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver’s attempt to nix the extension failed when his motion was not seconded.
Ward 3 Alderman David Little brought the new motion to the table Tuesday and accused Wiseman and Chief Administrative Officer Taylor Adams of intentionally deceiving aldermen of the policy’s ramifications by leaving out details from previous meetings’ board packets.
Wiseman countered, saying aldermen should have realized the doors opened by approving a “plus-one adult” policy.
“I’ve lost my faith in the mayor and CAO,” Little said. “Was there a demand or were we trying to set a trend?”
A heated debate followed between Wiseman and Little over how much the mayor and CAO played a part of developing the policy and digesting its impact for aldermen, while Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins also blasted Adams for opining on policy implications when answering questions from Wynn about the plus-one coverage.
“Staff needs to stay out of the policy; he went beyond the scope of the question,” Perkins said after Adams’ interaction with Wynn. “He went too far. That is not to be tolerated.”
At one point, Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn pounded the board table with his hands while accusing Adams of hiding information.
“That’s not right,” Vaughn said. “You have everyone thinking we’re bad people because you’re not helping us.”
“If you’re going to run for another office, that’s fine. I don’t trust either one of you,” Carver said, alluding to Wiseman’s popularity within the state Democratic Party. “If Starkville is going to be a battleground in the Southeast, I’m still going to vote my way.”
Both Wiseman and Adams bore the brunt of board displeasure in last week’s special-call session after Wynn, who called the impromptu meeting along with Carver, thanked the mayor and administrator for admitting they did not fully prepare aldermen for what expanded coverage would mean for employees.
Conversely, public criticism in last week’s and Tuesday’s meetings targeted aldermen for their inability to grasp concepts on their own or their perceived unpreparedness for meetings.
After the meeting, Adams again assumed responsibility for a lack of communication with aldermen and promised to better facilitate the flow of information to Starkville’s leaders.
“I’m deeply saddened to learn that I’ve lost the trust of some of our elected officials. I take full responsibility for this failure and will endeavor to repair the relationship,” he said. “I have a dedicated staff, and it’s my great honor to lead them. As a group, we assure the public we will provide more thorough information to our governing body.”
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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