Councilman Phil Claiborne’s effort to alter a Metro policy that offers two-term Metro Council members health insurance benefits for life suffered yet another setback Tuesday night, at the council’s first meeting of the new year.
Seeking third and final approval for his second bill on the matter in recent months, Claiborne was met with a motion to defer his proposal indefinitely. When he tried to stop that action, with a tabling motion of his own, he received no support from fellow council members who voted unanimously to defer the bill.
Claiborne’s proposal would adjust the premium payment schedule for former two-term council members to put it in line with future retiring Metro employees hired after the first of this year. It would require council members with eight years of service to contribute 75 percent of their premiums if they want to remain on Metro’s health insurance plan after leaving office. Currently, former two-term members contribute 25 percent.
In November, Claiborne was the sponsor of a bill that would have ended the policy completely, but that bill was defeated.
Neither proposal would have applied to current members.
Claiborne addressed the council Tuesday night, with a pitch he’s practiced several times now.
“I ask any of you in here to find a business or organization where you can work part time for eight years and walk away and expect that organization to pay 75 percent of you and your family’s insurance premiums for the rest of their lives,” he said. “I said at that time that was an absurd and ridiculous expectation. I still contend that it is ridiculous and absurd today.”
It was Councilman Fabian Bedne who rose to request an indefinite deferral, which was quickly seconded by several members. Bedne said he’d liked time “to look for a more comprehensive solution to this problem.” Speaking to The City Paper afterward, he expressed concerns about the effect the legislation might have on the makeup of the council.
“We are talking about the Metro Council and every decision we make has an impact on the type of people that choose to run or not to run for council,” he said. “I’ve asked [Claiborne] many times, what will this do to minorities, what will it do to women, what will it do to people that are middle income?”
Without the benefit, Bedne said, some individuals who would otherwise be interested in serving on the council might not be able to take time away from their current jobs to do so. With time, he said, the council could come up with a “comprehensive plan to make sure we don’t alienate anybody that wants to run for office.”
Claiborne called Bedne’s argument “irrational.”
“If they can’t serve on the council without an insurance benefit, they probably can’t serve on the council,” he said. “Because $15,000 a year is not going to pay your bills. You gotta have an income from some source. You’ve either got to be retired, you’ve got to have a business, or you’ve got to be working at a place that will give you the freedom to do the job as a council member.”
Claiborne said he’s bringing the bill right back, to put it before the council again at it’s first meeting in February.
“We’re gonna keep at it until it’s voted up or voted down,” he said.
In other council action:
• The council gave preliminary approval to a new set of economic incentives, in the form of tax breaks, to surgery center developer and operator AmSurg, and beef jerky maker Oberto Brands. For the first two years of an eight-year deal, AmSurg would receive a 100 percent property tax break, and a 60 percent discount for the remaining six. Oberto would get 50 percent off the property tax increase passed by the council last year.