What was the intent? Was malice involved, one last jab at political opponents?
Or was it exactly what its sponsor said it was — an attempt to redress what he called an “extreme discrepancy” in compensation between council members?
Whichever the answer, it's academic now, as the city council on Monday night in a 4-3 vote rejected on first reading a proposed ordinance sponsored by president Duane Chattin to eliminate the family-plan health-insurance option for members.
Chattin, fellow at-large member Shirley Rose, and District 2 member Traci Breece — all lame-duck Democrats — voted to move forward while fellow Democrats Dan Ravellette and Scott Brown along with Republicans Brian Grove and Tim Salter voted to kill the bill.
Brown also lost his bid for re-election on Nov. 5, leaving only Ravellette to represent their party on the council for the next four years.
Chattin dismissed any hint of malicious intent on his part in introducing the proposal, saying he had intended to do so regardless of the outcome of the election.
He explained his reasoning thusly: that part-time city employees were not offered health insurance, so it was unfair for council members to be allowed to add family or dependents to their coverage; and allowing members that option created an “extreme discrepancy” in the compensation between councilmen.
Of the seven council members, only District 1 representative Grove, a small businessman (he owns Auto Glass Express, 308 N. 19th St.), now includes his family on his insurance coverage. Each council member receives the same salary.
The cost to taxpayers of the city providing single-person coverage is just under $6,800 annually; for family coverage, the cost is just over $20,000 a year.
Mayor Joe Yochum said his understanding of the reason why 20 years ago health insurance coverage was offered to members was as an “incentive to get people to run for council.”
And, he said, each council member has the opportunity to include family.
Salters, who currently represents District 5 but who successfully claimed one of the two at-large seats (now held by Chattin and Rose) earlier this month, questioned why the proposal was coming up now.
Nothing was mentioned at budget hearings about doing away with the option — neither this year nor in any of the previous seven years of his tenure on the council.
“It just seems odd to me we're talking about this now,” Salters said.
Grove, too, questioned the timing, why it was being proposed with this “lame duck” council.
Chattin said though he lost his re-election bid he was still a council member in good standing and would remain so until the end of the year. He said he hadn't wanted to bring the matter up before the election to avoid it becoming an issue in the canvass.
He said the matter had been “stuck in my craw for a long time,” and he wanted to try to do something about it before his term ended.
Salters said Chattin over the years had many opportunities to bring up the issue but hadn't.
“I just think now is an odd time to be doing it,” he said. “It's never been an issue we've discussed — at meetings, at budget hearings, in a committee meeting … we've never done it.”
Chattin encouraged his colleagues to at least vote to adopt the measure on first reading to give the public a chance to discuss. They could still vote it down at the next meeting.
“That's all this vote would be doing, giving the public a chance to discuss it,” he said.
On Brown's motion and with Ravellette's second, the question was called for a vote and was defeated.