Let There Be Light

While it was interesting, I think the exchange between city council members Duane Chattin, Brian Grove and Tim Salters that took up the majority of Monday evening's meeting time down at City Hall missed the mark.

My view has been reaffirmed by randomly asking local taxpayers whether they knew council members were eligible to sign up for health insurance through the city, for which coverage taxpayers must foot the bill.

“Not until I read it in the paper,” was the most-given answer.

Chattin, who is on his way out of office after two tours of duty totaling 28 years, presented a resolution to drop the option council members have to include family and dependents in their taxpayer-funded coverage.

Whatever his motivation, Chattin's timing was horrible, which Grove and Salters were quick to point out. If the situation had been “stuck in his craw” for years, now, they argued, with his time in office rapidly coming to a close was an “odd” time for Chattin to be bringing it up.

Which is true.

But at least he finally did bring it up, if in an awkward context.

The mayor said offering council members access to the city's insurance coverage was something that had started 20 years or so ago, in what he believed was an effort to try to get more candidates to run for office.

I certainly believe elected officials deserve to be paid for the time they put in, especially that it should be an above-the-board exchange of a publicly-advertised, publicly-voted-upon salary for their service to the city.

The council does adopt an annual salary ordinance, which includes their own pay.

But I can't recall there ever having been a public discussion on a “compensation package” to go along with a council member's service, let alone a public vote to adopt that package.

If there are benefits to be offered, those benefits and their impact on the city budget need to be voted on as well.

Taxpayers need to know what their elected representatives are receiving in compensation.

A council member is paid $7,259 a year in salary.

Opting for the single health-insurance package bumps the compensation up to more than $14,000.

If a council member chooses the family plan, his total compensation package would be valued at almost $28,000 per year.

Only three of the seven council members now serving have signed up for city insurance — two for the single plan and one, Grove, for the family plan.

In making his argument, Chattin singled out only Grove's situation as the one that created what he called an “extreme discrepancy” in compensation between council members.

But the two other council members signed up for coverage are almost doubling what they receive in compensation; let's call that a “near-extreme discrepancy” in compensation.

I don't want to see take place on the local level what for years has been a problem in Congress (and is becoming almost as big an issue at the Statehouse) — money being a barrier to public office for those who want to serve but cannot afford the financial sacrifice.

The new council should early on do away with providing health-insurance for themselves and do what that council 20 or so years ago should have done: adopt a salary ordinance that includes sufficient pay for all members.

Gayle R. Robbins is editor and publisher of The Sun-Commercial. He can be reached at grobbins@suncommercial.com.

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