Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman issued his promised vetoes of two board resolutions passed outside of public purview that he says negatively harm members of the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender community, and tarnish the city’s image.
Led by Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins, aldermen voted 5-2 Tuesday to amend the city’s plus-one insurance offering for only workers’ spouses in state-recognized marriages and repealed Starkville’s statement of equality, which included non-discrimination protections to LGBT employees for the first time.
Wiseman vowed to veto the actions after aldermen met behind closed doors for almost three hours nixed the two policies without offering a reason at the table or notifying the public of the coming move.
Four aldermen — Ben Carver, Lisa Wynn, David Little and Henry Vaughn — supported Perkins’ motions, and the same coalition rubberstamped the vice mayor’s request to end discussion on the topic and force a roll-call vote with no public witnesses or input.
If the five-vote block holds, Wiseman’s vetoes should be overturned. The mayor said the debate over the topics and subsequent vetoes should, at the very least, be held out in the open, before the public.
Aldermen unanimously approved the statement of equality in January 2014, making Starkville the first Mississippi city to extend such protections specifically to LGBT employees.
Other cities — Hattiesburg, Oxford, Magnolia, Greenville, Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Jackson and Holly Springs — followed Starkville’s lead, issuing similar protections last year.
“I believe mistreating a person because of his or her … LGBT status is wrong. I believe in the dignity and worth of all people, and I believe that in a just society, all people must be equal in the eyes of the law,” Wiseman wrote in his veto of the board’s repeal of the non-discrimination language. “The equality resolution is about one simple thing, and that is how we treat each other. And I believe that our community is one that fosters love and respect for all, including our LGBT citizens.”
Starkville is operating on non-discrimination language present in the city handbook, Wiseman said, but that document does not specifically provide protections for LGBT-related issues.
Aldermen unanimously approved the plus-one insurance extension on Sept. 2 but blamed Wiseman and Chief Administrative Officer Taylor Adams for hiding the policy’s full impact once members of the city’s religious community complained.
Documents within that meeting’s city e-packet show a consulting firm clearly identified “domestic partnership eligibility” with the extension.
The policy survived an executive session challenge one week after its passage — Carver attempted to nix the plus-one tier with a public vote, but it died at the table without a second — but the same five-vote coalition pulled the option after an hour of heated public comments on Sept. 16.
Wiseman’s original veto of that board decision stood after Wynn, who previously abstained from voting on the matter, walked out of City Hall so a subsequent abstention would not count toward the majority.
Five votes are needed to overturn a veto; the coalition only had four.
Wynn flipped her stance and voted against both the statement of equality and the plus-one insurance option, meaning she voted to approve the acts, abstained from the first plus-one amendment, walked out of a veto override and voted against the insurance offering in five months.
“The sole purpose of (Tuesday’s insurance amendment) was to exclude domestic partners from coverage eligibility. I cannot abide a decision to deny any of our employees the opportunity to see to it that their loved ones can receive medical care when they are sick,” Wiseman wrote in his insurance amendment veto. “It is an opportunity that the city is fully capable of providing, and it costs the city nothing.”
Starkville gained national attention with its LGBT-friendly policies — passed by the same board members who voted against them Tuesday — this year, but Wiseman said perception issues from Tuesday’s closed-door meeting’s results could tarnish the city’s reputation.
“There’s no question in my mind that this sends the worst possible message to the outside world about our community,” Wiseman said Wednesday. “My biggest worry right now is the message it sends in our city and to our workforce. It says members of the LGBT community are not worthy of discrimination protections.
“I believe that’s wrong in every sense of the word,” he added. “I want members of the LGBT community to know that I will not give up the fight to ensure that discrimination will not be tolerated.
Two aldermen — Ward 4’s Jason Walker and Ward 5’s Scott Maynard — have been consistent with their votes supporting both the equality resolution and the insurance option since both items emerged last year.
Phone calls to Perkins and Wynn went unreturned this week.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch