Judging from the number of comments we have received about the column “City Council Wants Health Care for Life,” I thought I’d go into more detail about exactly what the resolution the City Council passed at the June 20 meeting asked the North Carolina General Assembly to do.
The bill the City Council sent to the legislature, seeking health care benefits from the city for councilmembers, wasn’t passed by the General Assembly, so the issue is on hold, at least for a while. But it will no doubt be something the Greensboro City Council will be pushing for next year, so it’s worth considering.
When he introduced the idea at the City Council meeting, Councilmember Mike Barber said that there would be no expense to the city if the proposed bill passed the legislature, but that is not what City Manager Jim Westmoreland said at the meeting, and not what the resolution passed by the City Council states.
Barber also said that the passage of the proposed bill would put the City Council on equal footing with the Guilford County commissioners, who, after serving 10 years, are eligible to receive health care paid for by the county when they leave office. The county can choose to pay all or part of that health insurance premium, but so far it has chosen to pay all.
The resolution passed by the City Council is far more specific in awarding benefits to former city councilmembers
The resolution states that after two terms on the City Council, a former city councilmember would be eligible for the same healthcare benefits as an employee retiring with less than 20 years of service.
What this means is that the former city councilmember would be eligible to buy health insurance through the city system but the city wouldn’t pay any portion of the premium. This is what Barber said the City Council was doing for all councilmembers, but that isn’t what the resolution states.
It gets a bit confusing because the City Council serves two-year terms, but the City Council election in November will be for four-years terms. The resolution only states “terms,” not years, like the statute for county commissioners. City Attorney Tom Carruthers said the proposal would only apply to city councilmembers leaving the council in the future.
So presumably a councilmember’s previous two-year term counts as a term when they leave the City Council. County commissioners, who serve four-year terms, are only eligible after serving 10 years, so they have to be elected three times, instead of two like the City Council.
Also, according to the resolution, after serving three terms on the City Council, the city would pay 50 percent of the cost of the health insurance; after four terms the city would pay 75 percent of the cost; and after five terms the city would pay 100 percent of the cost of the former city councilmember’s health insurance until they qualified for Medicare, and then the city would pay the cost of supplemental insurance.
So if this passes the state legislature, Councilmember Yvonne Johnson, who has served 11 terms on the City Council and is running for her 12th, would certainly qualify.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan would also qualify, having already served six terms on the City Council and running for her seventh.
City Councilmember Mike Barber noted that he has never taken advantage of the city health insurance, but he is running for his fourth term so under the proposal he would qualify for some benefits, as would City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann, who is running for her fourth term.
Councilmembers Sharon Hightower and Tony Wilkins, who are running for their third terms, would receive some benefits if they are reelected if the resolution were to pass.
City Councilmember Justin Outling, who is running for his second term would not be eligible for benefits under the proposal if he is elected, but he could choose to pay for his own health insurance and stay in the system, which is still a benefit, although there would be minimal cost to the city.
The idea that the sitting city councilmembers who voted in favor of this resolution did not stand to financially benefit if it had passed the legislature are simply wrong.
Everyone other than Outling, Hightower and Wilkins could potentially have had the city pay at least a portion of their health insurance costs if the bill they requested had passed the legislature, even if they aren’t reelected.
The resolution requesting the legislature pass this bill with these benefits passed by unanimous vote, which is hardly a surprise.