Claiborne's bill to increase council health premiums shot down again

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 1:06am

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.

7 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 1/9/13 at 2:57

Everybody is looking and striving for a "pat hand." This includes everyone from the homeless to the 1%.

America, the country with a future.

By: Rocket99 on 1/9/13 at 8:29

I currently don't know of any regular job where an employeed part time person gets health insurance. Why should Metro Council or any other elected governing body even receive health benefits? If that's what it takes to get quality people in the Council or any other elected position, then something is wrong.

I wonder how many of these elected officials also think Social Security is an entitlement and think it needs to be cut.

By: girliegirl on 1/9/13 at 10:36

Dear Rocket99
Did you know that former (back in the 90s and prior to that period) received basically no pay to speak of, yet they attended meetings, spent their own funds assisting and aiding their community? Gasoline to drive all over the city at any hour of the day was not free, nor was the wear and tear on their vehicles. Campaigns were grossly expensive, as I witnessed first hand, and families of those members suffered from the exposure to such an extent that I swore to individuals one would have to be born of wealth to even consider running for office back then. Of course, now they do receive a reasonable paycheck, thankfully. A typical campaign will cost you tens of thousands, if you really want to seek the office. If you're looking for the At Large position, you're going to need a coffer of well over $100,000.

Furthermore, once elected, you should consider a designated phone line for your home. That phone will ring at all hours, and for the most questionable reasons. Someone once called to complain that their local pizza establishment would not deliver to their area. They didn't seem to mind that the council member has no control over such an issue, either.

Your also going to be exposed to citizens who have mental/psychological issues. Never mind that their families are not interested, and that individual is going to follow you, maybe even stalk you. Good luck with that one.

Lastly, the person who seeks this office will not be available for their spouse or their children because there will always be a community meeting or Planning Dept session or Board of Zoning hearing that must be attended. No other job in this city, except for doctors and lawyers, seems to be as demanding as our political system.

And now I shall step down off my soap box. Have a spectacular day.

By: Ask01 on 1/9/13 at 6:54

So these people actually seek out votes to gain such questionable part time jobs. Considering the bleak picture painted above, why would anyone desire such a position? The obvious answer is to feed an enormous ego.

The impetus to seek office can't be to serve the community, since it seems the council does what High Lord Mayor Dean wishes, ignoring input from citizens except to deliver some meaningless statement acknowledging the comments and alluding to many factors, blah, blah, blah, and voting pretty much lock step.

Personally, I believe the conditions should be even more demanding, ensuring only those who truly wish to serve the community even bother. Those seeking to line their own pockets, or achieve some sort of notoriety will look for lower hanging fruit.

By: ancienthighway on 1/9/13 at 10:00

I don't see a problem with government employees being compensated for their service. I do have a problem with legislative bodies deciding on what and how much that compensation is for themselves though. I have a problem with the lifetime insurance benefits on the tax payer's dime. And I have a problem with employee contributions not being in line with the private sector.

By: frodo on 1/10/13 at 10:13

Speaking of jerks, you've got to love the irony in the tidbit at the bottom of the article: "...tax breaks, to surgery center developer and operator AmSurg, and beef jerky maker Oberto Brands." Just like when government hates tobacco but could sit and smoke the sales tax revenues all day long...here we learn that with the right hand the council encourages a surgery center for we whose bodies are clogged with salt and fat, and then with the left hand encourages makers of beef jerky. Personally, I think govt should stop picking winners and losers. But sometimes the combinations govts choose to support make great comedy. Perhaps they should have waited until the next meeting to welcome beef jerky.

By: Ask01 on 1/12/13 at 8:14

Let me be honest, folks. I don't like or trust any politician.

Curiously, the lower the political level, the lower the esteem in which I hold these elected employees. The higher the elected office, the more circumspect the image they must maintain. Those inhabiting the cellar of Dante's political inferno have the least invested, shortest distance to fall, and least concern, from my perspective, for public opinion.

Is it any wonder these peope vote for whatever the Mayor asks, and perks for themselves? They are in a win win situation, with us paying for them.