Council Medical Benefits: A Petition vs. A Solution?

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.

OR

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?

 

 

I’m a former Mayor, City Council member and Planning Commissioner who has lived in the City of Concord since 1989. I have a BA in Government from CSU Sacramento. My entire career has been spent explaining business realities to public officials and political realities to business leaders.

  • Actually there are several methods that the Council is aware of on how to get rid of the 5 year benefit just for Councilmembers while keeping the staff contracts in place. I reviewed what happens with current and past members. Past members can be made whole. While there are background and related issues that Kremin got wrong (I had immediately informed him of those details), the actual focus on the removal/change of the lifetime benefit for City Council members is correct and we should not be distracted by those errors from the central theme.

    Additionally there is already a legal opinion that for any existing members who are not vested (myself plus 2) should the policy be changed FOR THE COUNCIL before the election, then it would go into effect for all three of us since the running in the election is defacto acceptance of the change.

    The only thing the application of a change does if limited to brand new members is make the change more politically attractive to get three votes…to some.

    • Terry Kremin

      Exactly.

      And I am sure that the current serving would be willing to sign contracts stating that they will refuse the coverage once they leave the council.

      As I stated in reply to (Mr. Bjerke’s) comments on Halfway:

      Sometimes the only option for us common citizens is to shake the tree before the nuts will fall out.

      The petition is non-binding (as any petition on this issue would be), and it has served some of its purpose as the issue is FINALLY being addressed.

      Thankfully, Mayor Grayson acted quickly after the petition was announced.

      Sad that it took 3.5 years after being elected, after it being an issue in the last two elections, and after regularly prodding by Mr. Birsan to address it since his election.

  • Edi – I agree the point should be what are appropriate benefits, if any, for service on the City Council. Regardless – it’s also important to do our best to correct factual errors to improve the public discussion. Thanks for providing background and the astute political insight – it always takes three votes to get something done.