published Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Public meeting set on Chattanooga's same-sex benefit change

Should Chattanooga extend benefits to employees' same-sex partners?

After eight weeks of debate among residents over whether it's fair or immoral to extend benefits to partners of city employees in same-sex relationships, city officials announced a public hearing next week.

Legislation that would expand benefits for employees in domestic partnerships, which would include gay couples, will be introduced Nov. 12.

Next Tuesday the council will first hear from City Attorney Wade Hinton, who has researched what Tennessee state law will allow. There will be time for the public to speak.

Last week, Charlie Wysong, who is against expanding benefits, asked the council if the community could see a draft of the resolution before it's introduced to the City Council.

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem told Wysong, who has spoken before the council four times in the last two months on this issue, that the public would have input ahead of time.

"It's so important and means so much to so many people," Hakeem said Monday. "We thought it was a necessity to have a public hearing."

Hakeem said this hearing will be the first of its kind since he's taken office and he hopes to continue this open process for other key issues in the future. The meeting is in the afternoon, which Hakeem recognizes could be a problem for people to attend. He said he hopes to make the public input process better.

Councilman Chris Anderson announced in late August that expanding benefits was one of his top priorities. Since that announcement, public input has built each week. Supporters and opponents of the change have packed the seats in the council chamber. Many have brought Bibles and some have worn T-shirts stating "Equal benefits for equal work." One group created a Facebook page urging supporters to show up at meetings.

Mayor Andy Berke has also spoken in support of the expansion, calling it the fair thing to do.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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