UPDATE: The City Council decided to delay discussion and a decision on adding insurance coverage for same-sex partners because two members of the 11-member council are absent. The question moves to the Feb. 23 agenda — the next time all members of the City Council are expected to be at the meeting.
The City of Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest, decides Monday night whether to offer insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city employees.
The question could be contentious, as a budget deficit estimated from $6 million to $12 million has the city of 300,000 tightening belts at every turn. Some opponents say the roughly $50,000 annual cost to add the benefits is a luxury the city can’t afford. Others say the city can’t compete for employees without joining the 20 other municipalities across the state offering domestic partnership benefits. The 11-member City Council has discussed the measure at committee meetings and study sessions but remains divided, ushering it to Monday’s formal meeting on a 6-5 vote. Tonight, we’ll be live-blogging the debate and posting the result as it happens. Please join the discussion in the comments section below.
Read previous stories about Monday’s City Council proposal here, about the study session consideration here, about one council member’s objections on constitutional grounds here and about the proposal’s first appearance before City Council here.
7:30 p.m. – The City Council is gathering after preliminary meetings, including the Aurora Urban Renewal Authority and consideration in an informal study session of a proposal to require owners to register and maintain vacant (foreclosed) residential property.
On the coldest night of the year, attendance at the meeting is sparse but there appear to be roughly 30 members of the public in the auditorium.
Mayor Ed Tauer calls the meeting to order. Council members Steve Hogan and Deb Wallace are absent. Hogan had voted to move the same-sex benefits proposal ahead two weeks ago, and Wallace had voted against it.
7:40 p.m. – Everyone stands for a moment of silence, followed by the pledge of allegiance. There’s other business on the agenda, starting with contracts. Some discussion over whether to approve $131,000 to print and mail the “Leisure for Living” brochure, which describes city recreation opportunities. Times are tight, so Councilwoman Renie Peterson opposes the contract. Peterson has raised objection to the same-sex benefits proposal — which the city estimates will cost $49,500 a year in total — along the same grounds.
7:50 p.m. – There could be a motion to defer (put off to a later meeting) the same-sex benefits proposal to the Feb. 23 meeting because Hogan and Wallace are absent. Tauer explains that’s the next time everyone should be in attendance, and everyone wanted to weigh in. Members of the public who have come to comment will be able to have their say.
The motion to defer passes 7-1 with Councilman FitzGerald voting against. So nothing will be decided tonight.
Two members of the public who had signed up to speak about the measure are given the option to speak tonight or return in a month. Tauer tells the audience that they can’t do both. Pam Bennett, who lost a bid for a City Council at-large seat two years ago, says she’ll return on Feb. 23 and make her comments then, as does another woman who had signed up to speak. (Bennett has said she is again seeking a seat on City Council in the November 2009 election.)
“It’s the polite thing to do for our colleagues,” the mayor says.
FitzGerald says he’d like to comment. He asked the city attorney to inquire with Colorado Attorney General John Suthers whether the definition of same-sex domestic partnership in the proposal is “constitutionally permissible.” FitzGerald says he feels he cannot vote for this “in any manner” until he gets the OK from the attorney general. FitzGerald has raised objection to the proposal’s language, asking if it is contrary to a state constitutional ban on gay marriage. FitzGerald says he has “substitute language” he would like to propose that would keep the personnel policy within state law.
City Council moves on to other business. That’s it for tonight’s live blog. Check back on Feb. 23 — it sounds as though there should be quite a discussion.