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Lehigh County rescinds same sex marriage benefits

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 10 2014 05:07:32 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 10 2014 05:49:46 PM CST

Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller is only one week into his new job, but he hit the ground running.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller is only one week into his new job, but he hit the ground running.

"The day after my swearing in I got a call from our chairman of the board, who is extremely upset at what had taken place," Muller shared.

What had taken place was outgoing county executive Matt Croslis issued a directive expanding employee benefits to cover legally married same-sex couples. In a memo sent out Thursday, Muller told county workers Croslis had overstepped his authority, and Muller had to reverse the order.

"This was policy making, policy making under the charter belongs with the board, not the county executive," explained Muller.

The Board of Commissioners voted twice in the last three months to reject those benefits after Croslis has included them in his proposed 2014 budget.

"He netted out that because our personnel policy says we do not discriminate based on sexual orientation that that trumped any moves in the budget process," shared Muller.

Commissioner Percy Dougherty says in this situation the issue is not same sex marriage.

"We have a strong home rule charter that sets up separation of powers, and when one branch starts to step into the other's arena, then you have to stop that," he said. "Someone jumped the gun here and it was really unfair to place all of us in that position."

Including the three employees Muller tells us had already signed up for the new benefits during the ten days they were in place.

"I feel terribly for those people who have been longing for this for a long time, "he said. "I disagree with the policy, I think we should be offering the benefits."

Muller says he plans to include the benefits in his proposed 2015 budget that's due this summer. But it is still unclear if he will have the support of the Board of Commissioners.

In a statement Commissioner Brad Osbourne tells 69 News he will "evaluate that when and if that happens."

"I'm going to have to look at it somewhat favorably," added Dougherty. "But it will also depend on what happens at the state level, and also what our budget constraints are at budget time."