Domestic partners in the City of Richfield have been recognized with the City Council’s vote of 3-2 to pass the domestic partner registry ordinance. The City Council also voted unanimously to include and amendment that allows domestic partners who work in the city to get bereavement time.

The vote was taken at the meeting on February 8th.

The work towards the domestic partner registry ordinance began when I, Philip Lowe, Jr asked Mayor Debbie Goettel and City Council Member Sue Sandahl if they would be interested in considering a domestic partner registry at the precinct caucus on Feb. 2, 2010. After they both answered yes, I contacted Molly Darsow, the Chair of the Richfield Human Rights Commission.

After an educational information session with Phil Duran from Outfront Minnesota at the regular monthly meeting of the Human Rights Commission in May 2010 it was decided to proceed with the registry.

After an introduction to the City Council at a meeting in September it was decided to have a community forum.

The community forum took place on September 22 at the Woodlake Nature Center. The forum was very well attended and Richfield residents left with a good understanding about what the ordinance would not do, and what it would do.

A first reading of the domestic partner registry was done at the City Council meeting January 25, 2011. Mayor Debbie, Sue Sandahl, and Pat Elliot voted in favor of moving forward with a second reading at the meeting on Feb 8. City Council members Tom Fitzpatrick and Fred Wroge voted no.

Explaining his vote on January 25 and February 8 Fitzpatrick said:

“I realize the registration is important to these folks,” he said, but wondered if the city was “passing an ordinance just to pass an ordinance.” He suggested the city would be better served by the council passing a resolution in support of domestic partnerships, and forwarding it to House Rep. Linda Slocum for consideration at the state legislature.

Councilmember Fred Wroge was also opposed to the ordinance. He made several calls as part of his research of the topic, calling neighboring city officials and hospital representatives about the effect of a similar ordinance. Wroge found little benefit to a city ordinance and doubted the city’s support of domestic partnership will have much affect upon private businesses and their willingness to extend employee benefits to domestic partners. He also took exception to a city code amendment that will grant bereavement leave for city employees to include registered domestic partners.

A domestic partnership registry, which would require payment of an administrative fee, creates busy work for city employees, according to Wroge. He, too, argued that domestic partner benefits should come from the top down. “That’s where it need to be done, at the state level,” he said.

Councilmember Pat Elliott said he cares about what residents of Richfield have asked of the city, not the opinions of those outside of Richfield. His initial opinion was that a domestic partnership registry would merely be symbolic, but after attending a public information meeting about the proposal last fall and hearing the impact domestic partnership recognition by private companies has on the lives of employees, he changed his mind.

“It’s time to move forward and take a stand,” he said. “What other communities do, I don’t care.”

Councilmember Sue Sandahl pointed out that the statewide ban on smoking inside bars and restaurants wasn’t handed down by the state, it started with cities and counties.

Mayor Debbie Goettel was also in favor of a local ordinance as a catalyst for action at the state level.

The council’s approval of bereavement for domestic partners of city employees was also approved unanimously The benefit will be extended to general services and management employees of the city, but will have to be negotiated as part of future labor contracts with unions, according to City Manager Steve Devich. He expects the provision will be extended to union employees in future negotiations.

Diversity can be understood as counting people. Inclusion means people count. The vote to pass the domestic partner registry ordinance means that domestic partners can be counted and that we can also count.

Lastly, on January 25, I was appointed to the Richfield Human Rights Commission where we will be talking about more advances for equality for all who live in our City.

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