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Palmetto Bay passes domestic-partner benefits

BY HOWARD COHEN, hcohen@MiamiHerald.com

Citing morale and morality, several members of Palmetto Bay's council pushed for the acceptance of domestic-partner benefits for its employees.

On its second reading, after debate over its cost and the potential quality of insurance, the ordinance passed on a unanimous 5-0 vote.

The passage helps the village compete with larger organizations that can offer superior benefits packages.

Mayor Eugene Flinn, the original sponsor, insisted that its acceptance was the moral thing to do.

``We need a policy that is inclusive for all of our employees,'' he said.

Council member Ed Feller, however, expressed concern that since the village employs fewer than 50 employees, insurance companies, as the rules exist now, do not have to extend benefits for domestic partners.

``The question has to do with health insurance,'' Feller said. ``The problem is that there is no such thing as `comparable benefits.' We run the risk of having lousy health insurance benefits.''

Council member Shelley Stanczyk, a cosponsor of the ordinance, disagreed.

``We can manage it. This is what is right and what is equitable,'' she said.

Palmetto Bay resident Warren Lovely said the council had not done enough homework about how many employees might be affected or its cost before asking for the passage of the ordinance.

We have a ``reasonable expectation when you are asking citizens to pay for something you should be specific,'' Lovely said.

Resident Gary Pasterella, however, said its passage was similar to the strides black citizens made in the 1960s.

``We're coming into a new era and the same benefits need to be extended to all members of the Palmetto Bay community,'' Pasterella said.

Flinn also promoted its passage despite the obstacles.

``We've been fiscally conservative and this puts us in the position to even the playing field.''

That small scale is one of the problems, Flinn said. Palmetto Bay has 341 residents for every employee. To maintain and recruit future employees, the village's benefits packages must be competitive.

For instance, Palmetto Bay police officers are outsourced to the county so their numbers are not counted in Palmetto Bay's employees' total.

``Even though they are members of Palmetto Bay, we do not get the [insurance] benefits,'' Flinn said. ``Smaller pools shouldn't be discriminated against in how they compete. How can small businesses compete?''

Ultimately, the measure passed rapidly in a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes.

Palmetto Bay becomes only the fifth city in Miami-Dade County to extend benefits to partners who fall outside of the traditional, legally married one man-one woman definition, said CJ Ortuno, executive director of SAVE Dade. The other four are Miami Beach, North Miami, South Miami and Miami.

The benefits for current and future employees extend not only to gay couples but to anyone who chooses to live together.

• In other business, the council delivered a proclamation to Publix and its store manager Troy Fauerbach for its community service after a fire last month at the nearby Villagio at Palmetto Bay condominium complex displaced more than 50 residents. Publix provided water and other items.

``We didn't have to ask,'' Flinn said. ``They stepped forward to help those who found themselves homeless.''

• City of Miami first responder Fidel Barreto also addressed the council about search and rescue operations in Haiti after the earthquake. He told of his unit's rescue of a woman from Pembroke Pines who had been trapped with others in a market that had collapsed.

``It took 36 hours nonstop. What saved them was peanut butter and jelly. That's what they ate for four days,'' Barreto said. ``I'm proud of every guy on my team.''


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