Tom Barnidge of the Contra Costa Times wrote a column in Sunday’s (June 29, 2014) paper about a petition effort to end the lifetime medical benefits members of the City Council qualify for if they serve for at least five years.
The story’s headline: “What’s the deal with lifetime medical coverage for Concord council members?”
The petition is being offered by a former (and perhaps future) candidate for City Council, Terry Kremin. For political purposes a petition makes perfect sense. It raises the issue and gets people talking about it. For a candidate its a juicy issue and a proven way to generate media coverage and increase your name recognition (a little.)
Unfortunately, Terry’s petition gets the facts wrong. The City Council does not have a contract. The Council’s stipend and benefits are not negotiated with the City Manager. The stipend amount is limited by provisions in state law and voted on by the Council itself. Any increases to the stipend only take effect after the next election.
Tom’s column points out that ending the benefits will take more than a petition. The benefits are part of the negotiated package offered to all full-time city employees AND the California Public Retirement System (CalPERS) has determined that for these benefits Council members are considered full-time employees.
So there are only two possible ways to formally end this “perk” for the City Council.
1. Renegotiate the contracts with all city employee groups changing when the retiree medical benefit is earned by full-time employees.
2. Changing state law or CalPERS regulations that classify City Council members as full-time employees.
Both of those solutions are not easy to do. There are numerous legal questions about when pension and medical benefits “vest” or become permanent for a certain class of workers. Council member Dan Helix is probably correct when he said the ultimate fix may only be able to apply to new Council members.
A third, voluntary solution would be for Council members to simply not sign-up for City of Concord medical benefits when they retire.
Which solution does Terry support? Tom’s column doesn’t say. Terry’s petition closes with “…our only recourse as voters is to use our votes to insure those elected support realistic life-time benefits for ALL employees.”
What would that be? What do you think it should be?