Dallas City Council votes for equal pension benefits for its employees

ERF vote

ERF board members are, from left, Chair Carla Brewer, former City Councilman Chris Luna, retiree Francis Pieters, Councilman Adam Medrano, retiree John Rogers, Omar Narvaez, Councilwoman Carolyn Davis and Councilman Lee Kleinman.

Married gay and lesbian Dallas city employees now receive the same pension benefits as employees in opposite-sex marriages. The Dallas City Council voted this morning, Feb. 18, after a short discussion by a margin of 11-3. Dwaine Caraway was absent because of the death of his father.

Three council members voted against the proposal — Sheffie Kadane, Vonciel Jones Hill and Rick Callahan.

The Dallas City Council voted to amend the definition of the term “spouse.” The IRS ruling that went into effect on Jan. 1 requiring all pension funds to treat same-sex married couples equally required benefits be offered to anyone who retired, as of the United States v Windsor decision in June 2013. The Dallas rule change allows anyone who was married at retirement to apply for those equal benefits.

Retiree Frances Pieters left Dallas City Hall and headed directly to the the Employee Retirement Fund office at Plaza of the Americas to submit her request for funds. Pieters retired before Windsor but was married before her retirement date.

The Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire and Rescue have a separate pension fund. That board last week refused to come into compliance with IRS regulations, which puts the fund in jeopardy of losing its tax-exempt status. In addition, it means a surviving spouse of a fallen police officer or firefighter would not receive benefits.

—  David Taffet

Dallas pension board comes to LGBT benefit compromise

Luna

Former Dallas City Councilman Chris Luna discussing the pension board’s options

Dallas City Council members Lee Kleinman and Carolyn Davis, who sit on the city employee pension board, led the fight for equal pension benefits for the city’s LGBT employees at a meeting held today (Feb. 10).

John Jenkins, a pension board member who works for Park and Recreation, said, “Some action needs to be taken today,” also arguing for equal benefits.

Former city Councilman Chris Luna appeared at the meeting to explain the IRS ruling that says pensions must be in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v Windsor to remain tax exempt. That means offering equal benefits to same-sex married couples, no matter where they live as long as they were married in a marriage equality state, Luna said.

The pension board’s attorney, Gary Lawson, however, advised that the Windsor decision and the subsequent IRS ruling don’t apply to the city’s pension. He also argued state law doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage — but didn’t explain in open session why state law that has been found unconstitutional trumps federal law or IRS regulations directed at federally chartered pensions.

But Jenkins said other attorneys have advised him differently.

“If you’re African-American, the law has been on the wrong side of history plenty of times,” Jenkins said.

While the board discussed how they would eventually have same-sex couples prove their marriages by presenting their marriage licenses, the pension fund already offers benefits to opposite-sex couples who are not married but sign a common-law marriage document.

The compromise unanimously approved today asks the city attorney for a written opinion and the IRS for an expedited ruling on the Dallas pension. Pending a favorable opinion by the city attorney, benefits will then be offered to same-sex couples. Also in the resolution is the stipulation that should the Supreme Court rule against marriage equality and uphold the Texas ban on same-sex marriage, an attempt will be made to recoup any benefits given to same-sex couples.

The city’s police and fire pension board is having similar problems offering its LGBT employees equal pension benefits and meets later this week.

—  David Taffet

The earthquake report: We’ve been having them

Earthquake epicenters determined by USGS - NEIC, April 17, 2014 through January 23, 2015.

Earthquake epicenters determined by USGS — NEIC, April 17, 2014 through January 23, 2015.

I have yet to feel any of the earthquakes that have been rattling DFW — or at least, parts of DFW — lately. But I have seen a lot of my friends talking about them on Facebook. From what they have said, the tremors and aftershocks have been pretty frequent in recent weeks, and some of them have been at least a little scary.

And then today, I got an email from the office of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings letting me know that city officials from Dallas and Irving have reviewed the findings of a preliminary study on the quakes by Southern Methodist University. .

And here are the preliminary study’s big findings:

• The epicenters are confined to an area extending from Texas 114 to Walnut Hill Road, along the Trinity River (near the site of the old Texas Stadium in Irving, indicating a fault extending from Irving into West Dallas). The new earthquake locations extend the source area through parts of Irving and west Dallas.

• Most of the earthquakes appear to be under the Fort Worth Basin; however SMU says the location may be off by about half a mile and seismologists stress the need for additional research.

•  These earthquakes are shallow in nature, and seismologists could not conclude whether the quakes were natural or related to gas well drilling.

Don’t you feel much safer now? I know I do. But to be serious (and fair), they are really just getting started, and the possibility of a severe earthquake here in our area is a very serious — and frightening — thought.

Anyway, Mayor Rawlings said, “We value the time and resources the SMU team has invested in helping us understand the recent earthquakes. The working group will discuss these findings and let us know what the next steps should be.”

The press release noted that SMU has been working with the U.S. Geological Survey to pinpoint more accurate locations for the recent earthquake swarm.

The working group is comprised of the cities of Irving, Dallas, SMU, USGS and the Texas Railroad Commission. The group is scheduled to discuss the recent report on Friday, Feb. 13.

To read SMU’s preliminary earthquake report for yourself, go here. Read it and you will find some information such as the USGS began reporting noticeable earthquakes in this area in 2008, even though there no earthquake activity here at least as far back as 1970. The current string of quakes began last April, and the largest one to date has been magnitude 3.6. There have been 5 earthquakes over magnitude 3. o since last April, and 46 quakes reported.

And if you feel the earth start to move, as my wife says when she takes a corner too fast in the car, “Hold on to your girdle, Myrtle.”

—  Tammye Nash

A bit of Dallas LGBT history for you

Today, Chad Mantooth, the associate advertising director here at Dallas Voice, sent me a post he found on Reddit.com linking to a “historical photo” showing “Three supporters of Dallas’ first Gay Pride Parade — 1972.” The poster notes that written on the back on the original photo is the date June 24, 1972.

The link carries you to the website of the University of North Texas’ Portal to Texas History, where you see this photo:

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 2.58.44 PM

(I lightened this in Photoshop and increased the contrast, just so you can see the women and their signs better.)

Read the signs they carry: “Tired of hiding — Want to be free” and “Don’t laugh — I may be happier than you.”

It makes you realize how very far we’ve come, even though we still have a long way yet to go.

—  Tammye Nash

Bijoux to close Feb. 28

image003Bijoux, the French-style fine-dining restaurant in Inwood Village which I selected as my top table of 2006, had decided to close its doors one month from now, according to a press release.

The owners — chef Scott Gottlich and his wife, sommelier Gina — have decided to concentrate on their resto The Second Floor at the Galleria and work on future projects.

Aside from being my favorite restaurant of its first year, Bijoux was also my restaurant of choice for a Valentine’s Day and birthday dinners. Hopefully the Gottlichs will launch an equally wonderful place in the near future.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Rodeo Goat opens in Dallas on Market Center

IMG_6400IMG_6397There’s a Rodeo Goat in Tarrant County, but who has time to cross the Trinity for a good burger? Now we don’t have to. The Dallas locale of Rodeo Goat just opened across the street from Dallas Voice offices. Known for its burgers and cheesy fries, it’s not exactly raw-organic-vegan low-fat fare … which is fine with us.

We’ll have a more formal review soon, but until now, this is what it looks like outside the Rodeo Goat.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

It’s New Year’s Eve: Party on and party safely

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Are you still trying to decide where to go for New Year’s Eve? Here are a few options on where to go to bring 2015 in with a bang — and a couple of reminders to play it safe and keep the weather in mind and the drinking under control. This is a “no refusal” weekend for most area law enforcement agencies, and you don’t wanna start the year off with a trip to the pokey.

Wanna know where to go and what to do for New Year’s Eve? Here are just a few ideas:

The Round-Up Saloon’s New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball. Includes a catered buffet, breakfast after midnight, a cash balloon drop, a champagne toast and party favors. Tickets are $20 at the door. 3912 Cedar Springs Road.

Alexandre’s New Year’s Eve Party with Andrea Dawson and Band. Free champagne toast at midnight. No cover. Party hats and favors provided. 9 p.m–close. 4026 Cedar Springs Road.

Full Circle Tavern’s “Mad as Hatter” New Year’s Eve Party. Dress your head in its most interesting attire to ring in 2015. All-inclusive dinner, cocktails, live DJ, party favors and complementary champagne at midnight. RSVP at 214-208-3435. 1319 S. Lamar St.

The Grapevine’s New Year’s Eve Party. Features DJ Christopher J (of super ’80s band Berlin with Terri Nunn) spinning from 7 p.m. Cover is $1 at the door. 3902 Maple Ave.

Club Dallas New Years Eve Party. Event begins at 11p.m. with a champagne toast at midnight. 2616 Swiss Ave.

Considering the weather forecasts for tonight and tomorrow, you might want to make sure that you get somewhere fun and stay there! Here’s the forecast from Jeff Ray at CBS Channel 11:

It was already snowing in Jack and Denton counties — north and west of DFW — overnight Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Today’s (Wednesday, Dec. 31′s) high is only going to get to about 37 degrees, and winter storm warnings have been issued, mostly for the western regions of the The Metroplex. Tarrant County is expected to get “a trace of wintry mix” and areas a bit further west may see up to half an inch of ice on the ground.

And yeah, the forecasts say everything will be west. But you don’t want to take a chance that some of that mess won’t make its way into Dallas and on east.

And now, here’s a word of warning from the Dallas Police Department on drinking and driving:

“The Dallas Police Department will conduct a No-Refusal DWI Initiative during the New Year’s Day Weekend. This initiative will begin at 6:00 P.M., Wednesday, December 31, 2014 and will end at 6:00 A.M., Monday, January 5, 2015.

“During this initiative, officers will secure a search warrant for a blood sample from all persons arrested for DWI who refuse to voluntarily give a breath and/or blood sample.

“The Dallas Police Department would like to remind everyone to not drink and drive.”

—  Tammye Nash

Mike Rawlings will run for re-election as mayor in 2015

Rawlings

Mayor Mike Rawlings

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings confirmed today (Tuesday, Dec. 2) that he will run for re-election next May, telling Dallas Morning News that he still has some “big bold goals” left to accomplish.

In the campaign leading up to his first election as Dallas mayor in 2011, Rawlings courted the LGBT vote. But he drew the community’s ire, beginning in early 2012, when he repeatedly refused to sign a pledge in support of marriage equality and in 2013 refused to support a council resolution supporting marriage equality. At the time, he called the resolution a misuse of the council’s time and blocked it from being placed on the council agenda.

But Rawlings reversed that stance this year, voting in May, along with 12 other council members, to pass a resolution that was “a comprehensive statement of support” that directs city staff to evaluate and fix the inequities for LGBT employees in city employment.

Rawlings, 60, is also the former CEO of Pizza Hut and a former chief executive of the Tracy-Locke ad agency, and a vocal supporter of efforts to end domestic violence.

—  Tammye Nash

2014 Black Tie Dinner: The Night in Photos

The Sheraton Dallas hotel was wall-to-wall Saturday night for the 33rd annual Black Tie Dinner, which raised funds for local beneficiaries and the Human Rights Campaign.

The event featured the presentation of the Kuchling Humanitarian Award to Mike Anglin, the Black Tie Media Award to Dale Hansen and the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award to attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, along with special appearances by NBA star Jason Collins and the Prop 8 plaintiffs.

Comedienne Dana Goldberg emcees the evening, which also featured entertainment by Alex Newell and Steve Grand.

Dallas Voice photographer Cassie Quinn captured the evening in photos:

—  Tammye Nash

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth top Texas cities in HRC Municipal Equality Index

MEI-2014-map-650x375The Human Rights Campaign released its third annual Municipal Equality Index today (Wednesday, Nov. 12) assessing LGBT equality in 353 cities across the nation, including 22 in Texas, according to a press release from HRC.

The MEI, the only nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law and policy, assesses cities on a one to 100 scale.

The average score for the 22 Texas cities is 28 out of 100 points, far below the national average of 59. Only Austin achieved a perfect 100 score. Dallas came in second with 91 points and Fort Worth third with 83 points.

San Antonio, El Paso and Houston earned scores of 72, 52 and 54 respectively, the only other cities to score more than 50 points.

Other surveyed Texas cities included Amarillo: 14,  Brownsville: 20, Corpus Christi: 16, Killeen: 10, Laredo: 2, Lubbock: 0, McAllen: 0, Pasadena: 10, Waco: 24.

The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories: Non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage, contracting non-discrimination requirements, and other policies relating to equal treatment of LGBT city employees, inclusiveness of city services, fair law enforcement practices and leadership on matters of equality.

Check out the full list here and this week’s edition of the Voice for comments from local leaders.

—  James Russell