by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
Last week we saw the Gaston County commission vote to give themselves a special health insurance benefit as a special perk. Now we are learning of another perk the Chair of the Gaston County Commission has created that will pay his family a potential $24,000.
The commissioner, Tracy Philbeck, and his wife have decided to adopt three children from Ukraine after hosting one of the children as part of an overseas exchange program. In late 2013, the commissioners approved an adoption reimbursement program which is aimed at assisting full-time county employees who adopt children. While commissioners are considered part-time employees, this benefit was extended to include commissioners but not other county part-time employees. According to the program, applicants can get a reimbursement of up to $8,000 per child for costs related directly to the adoption process. Now, a year and a half after hosting this young boy from Ukraine, the Philbeck family has decided to adopt the boy and his two siblings. Philbeck has become the first person to apply for compensation through the county’s new Adoption Reimbursement program.
A Gaston Gazette article brings light to the obvious conflict of interest:
The adoption reimbursement program has flown under the radar since its inception. But news of it, and of Philbeck’s plans to expand his family, became a conversation piece among local residents over the last week.
Critics say it is a conflict of interest, and reflective of a controversial health insurance perk that county commissioners approved for themselves last Tuesday.
Gaston County Democratic Party Chairman Robert Kellogg said he doesn’t agree with local taxpayer dollars being used to defray the costs of county employees — and particularly commissioners — adopting children.
“That’s not what county funds are for,” he said. “They’re for infrastructure and schools. In light of what just happened (with the vote for insurance benefits), it makes the actions and promotion of this measure by our county commissioners more suspect.”
Kellogg said it’s an example of “poor leadership, lack of accountability and an inability to understand the constituents they serve.” Subsidizing private family adoption expenses with taxpayer money, in an effort to reduce the public costs that come from children being in foster care, sounds like a Democratic ideal that Philbeck shouldn’t agree with as a supposed conservative, Kellogg said.“I’m just a little confused as to what his ideology is,” he said.