Commissioners Offended By Domestic Registry Comment
Mayoral candidate Bob Hackworth said he was 'ashamed of Dunedin' for its 'silence' on the issue, prompting commissioners to fire back that they're pursuing a countywide ordinance.
Commissioners' eyebrows raised last week after mayoral candidate Bob Hackworth's strong commentary suggesting city leaders were disinterested in creating a domestic partnership registry.
Hackworth, a former Dunedin mayor known for his support for the lesbian and gay community, said he was "ashamed of Dunedin" for its apparent "silence" on establishing a domestic partner registry during a Sept. 26 forum.
But Dunedin Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said Hackworth is "wrong."
"We had indeed discussed it and agreed that a countywide registry would benefit our residents much better," Bujalski wrote in an email to Dunedin Patch.
Email records show that Dunedin began researching the issue in April, on the heels of Tampa's historic ordinance granting couples who live together certain medical and educational decision-making rights. But city leaders ultimately sided with County Commissioner Ken Welch, who told the Tampa Bay Times in May that it made more sense to have a countywide "standard" instead of having the cities pass ordinances individually.
The county commission was slated to review it last week but it ended up being postponed until Dec. 6, Bujalski explained.
Gulfport became the first city in Pinellas County to pass a domestic partnership registry in May. Clearwater and St. Petersburg followed in June. Largo leaders are still in the discussion phase.
Hackworth 'Ashamed' on Lack of Registry Progress
"Dunedin has a history of being a very progressive, forward-thinking community. A number of other communities in Pinellas County have already passed domestic partner registries in regard to health care. Why do you think Dunedin has delayed so far into passing such a registry and what is your opinion for or against passing such a registry?"
The crowd laughed for several seconds because of Hackworth's history of passionate support for lesbian and gay equality. After the crowd settled, Hackworth responded:
"I am, I am really kind of ashamed of Dunedin. Because in the past this community has been a pioneer in recognizing equality and the rights of the LBGT community. We were one of the very first communities that recognized the idea that we would give workers with partners benefits. We started a very strong effort of championing and taking pride in the diversity in our community. So I'm actually very ashamed that St. Petersburg, Tampa, Largo, Gulfport, Pinellas County are all talking about this issue. Many have passed it already. And yet Dunedin is completely silent on the issue all of a sudden, and it really makes me wonder what the heck is going on because this is something that's important. It's something that we, as I say, have been a pioneer in and we should always continue to strive to be a pioneer. This is a great program. It's long overdue. I would fully support it, and it would be the very first thing I would bring to the commission when I'm elected — to make sure it's on the agenda, that we have public hearings and that we speak our mind on this important issue of equality in our community."
Hackworth's mayoral opponent, Mayor Dave Eggers, was not given the opportunity to respond to the question.
Vice Mayor Vouches for City's Early Effort on Registry
Hackworth's comment at the Sept. 26 forum moved Vice Mayor Ron Barnette to write a late-night email when he returned hom from the Hale Center. In it, he urged his fellow commissioners to revisit the topic at the Sept. 27 city commission meeting.
Barnette, whose brother is in a same-sex union, first suggested the idea of a city registry after news of Tampa passing its ordinance in April.
In Barnette's late-night email after the forum, he reminded the commission of his April request for a registry:
There were three or four subsequent emails sent from our City Clerk, who canvassed other cities’ documents, along with a thoughtful email from our City Attorney in May regarding his own intentions to review other cities’ ordinances and get back to us.
Bujalski said Hackworth that the commission discussed the issue for the second time on Sept. 27, "because of Bob's incorrect remarks."
"... and [we] still agreed that it was better for a person to register once, countywide, [versus] 24 times in one county," she said. "We also agreed that if the county did not make substantial headway on Dec 6th, that we would re-visit.
"I have been communicating with Commissioner Ken Welch on this issue and it looks promising."