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Domestic Partner Benefit Wrongly Framed as Equality in Margate by:

Domestic Partner Benefit Wrongly Framed as Equality in Margate

June 01, 2014 By

To call Domestic Partner benefits a matter of “equality” for City of Margate employees would require a conversation that didn’t happen. _________ According to Margate City Manager, Jerry Blough, no city employee is denied health or life insurance benefits based on sexual orientation. Gay, bi, transgendered or straight, City of Margate employees have equal access to health and life insurance. Employees choose from a variety of health plans that depending on co-pay determines their cost. Unlike most private employers, Margate subsidizes the cost ofhealth insurance not only for employees, but for employees' spouses and families as well. This led city commissioners to suggest that since Margate taxpayers support health insurance for married persons employed by the city, they should support the same for unmarried couples and their dependents living together. In a 3-2 vote in May, commissioners approved health and life insurance benefitsand subsidies for the latter. Framing the benefit as a matter of equality for Margate employees and their families, commissioners neglected to discuss a more equal playing field for fairness: that is, only to subsidize the insurance of city employees; not their spouses or children. To have this discussion, commissioners would have threatened their own health insurance benefit, as three of five are married and all have access to health insurance for their families. Not fully discussing the fiscal side of the domestic partner benefit - and it’s potential to impart equal treatment of Margate employees while saving taxpayers millions - was egregious and ignorant on behalf of commissioners. Although the city has explored the concept of downsizing health insurance benefits for employees, no hard numbers exist, City Manager, Jerry Blough, told - despite having researched the policy months in advance he said at a city meeting. Something we think should have been presented to commissioners as part of making an informed decision on whether to add an estimated $150,000 a year to the already $5 million taxpayers presently pay for health insurance citywide. Accused of perpetuating the domestic partner policy as part of an LGBT rights agenda, the City’s openly gay Mayor, Le Peerman, introduced the benefit to commissioners as a solo act. No residents, city employees or labor unions asked for it and Peerman alone requested the City Manager investigate the pros and cons of offering it. “It was not my idea or a City Staff idea/concept,” Blough wrote in an email to the News. We questioned the City Manager on that protocol, suggesting that city commissioners first need to agree as a political body to give the City Manager direction prior to expending labor hours and dollars on the exploration of policies or legislation that significantly impact city coffers. We said that on numerous occasions we have witnessed him telling commissioners at city meetings that he takes direction only from the commission as a whole, not individually. As it turns out, city staff will explore anything commissioners want on request - together or apart. “We will and do research on all items brought up when requested, whether they are from one or more. You see at every Commission Meeting that one or more want something researched, looked into, etc.,” he said. Given this development, it’s clear how elected officials in Margate have perpetuated special interests over the years. Using high paid city executives as secretaries - and sometimes lobbyists, elected officials fly personal interests under the radar for months at the expense of taxpayers with no public knowledge or input. With a yearly salary of $28,000 plus benefits - tops among Broward cities - Margate city commissioners should conduct their own fundamental research on issues they would like to move forward in the city, and discuss in the Sunshine their policy suggestions with fellow commissioners prior to spending taxpayer dollars on the whim of one.

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