Partner benefits opposed in co-op

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Denton, Tarrant counties officials say they’d veto idea; Horn cites costs

A decision from Denton County Judge Mary Horn will leave Dallas County officials to look at health benefit options outside of a cooperative that exists between area entities.

At a recent meeting for the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins sought to get approval for domestic partner benefits for Dallas County. Horn was against the idea, but said county officials are welcome to seek their own way of providing the benefits outside of the co-op.

“There are certain efficiencies we have realized over the years by everyone doing the same thing,” Horn said. “It is cost-effective for us all to be offering the same thing. I’m not telling Dallas County what they should or shouldn’t do. I just didn’t think it was the right thing for PEBC.”

Horn said the group just spent a lot of time, money and effort to verify the eligibility of employee dependents.

The Public Employee Benefits Cooperative was created in 1998 to provide joint purchase of employee benefits, centralized administration and other services. Cooperative member groups include Dallas County, Tarrant County, the North Texas Tollway Authority, Denton County and Parker County.

Members of the cooperative board are Dallas County’s Jenkins, Commissioner Elba Garcia and human resources director Mattye Mauldin-Taylor; Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Commissioner Roy Brooks and human resources director Tina Glenn; and Horn, from Denton County.

The North Texas Tollway Authority and Parker County do not have seats on the board.

“Changes in eligibility and benefits offered and a host of other things go in front of the board for approval,” Jenkins said Thursday.

He noted that he brought up benefits for domestic partners last year and it failed by one vote.

This year, composition of the board changed and Jenkins thought he would have had more success.

“The reality of what we were seeking is a benefit that would bring us in line with the city of Dallas, Fort Worth, D/FW [Airport] and Parkland [hospital system], and many Fortune 500 companies,” Jenkins said. “I believe it is an issue of both equality and competitiveness. As an employer, I want a benefit package equal to those seeking to hire the same positions.”

Looking in this region, cities are bringing in more employees to fill positions than the counties, Jenkins said.

“What we sought is to provide domestic partner benefits to Dallas County,” he said. “We did not seek to change or force Denton County to provide those benefits, but simply [sought] to have the plan allow us to provide the benefits to our employees.”

Because of the stated intention to veto on the part of Denton and Tarrant counties, Jenkins said Dallas County officials are looking at providing those outside of the cooperative. It won’t be equal to the benefits they could offer employees under the cooperative, but it is better than nothing, he said.

Horn said the bylaws of the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative state that it cannot provide one thing for one county that is not provided for all of the counties.

Horn said people in domestic partnerships can get benefits and insurance through their place of employment or buy it on their own.

“I don’t see why it has to be part of PEBC [Public Employee Benefits Cooperative]. If Dallas County wants to do this, that’s up to them,” she said. “It’s not my decision. There are provisions for Dallas County to drop out of PEBC in the bylaws and do what they want to do.”

John Turner-McClelland, an active participant in the Denton County Democratic Party, said that if employers want to provide the fairest benefits for employees, they should do it for everyone regardless of their partnership status.

“I do understand it’s hard to verify if they are not willing to accept documents from other states,” he said.

Turner-McClelland said he thought Horn did not want to recognize same-sex unions formed in another state or have to validate the relationships.

“I don’t think she is willing to go out on that limb,” he said. “I think it’s purely political.”

Horn maintains that the issue is strictly financial and abiding by the bylaws of the cooperative.

“He can think whatever he wants to think and I am sure he will. I have a responsibility as a member of the board of PEBC to do what the bylaws call for and look for the most cost-effective way to provide insurance coverage to all our employees,” she said. “He’s entitled to his opinion and I am entitled to mine, but I have a vote and I vote no.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is blewis@dentonrc.com .

 


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