Terry Kremin is an engaged Concord resident. He's twice been a candidate for City Council, he's a member of the historical society, and he stays abreast of local issues, as his frequent emails to my inbox attest.
So it hardly came as a surprise when he recently launched a petition to end the generous medical benefits available to council members. He prefaced his request for signatures with a slice of sarcasm, always appreciated in this corner:
Help wanted: Part time, flexible hours, lifetime health care after five years of employment! Sound too good to be true? It SHOULD, but this is exactly what the members of the Concord City Council award the members of the Concord City Council.
Council members are indeed afforded that benefit, City Manager Valerie Barone said. It's the same benefit available to all city employees age 50 or older with five years of service who retire, within 120 days of leaving their jobs.
You can credit (or blame) the city's participation in the California Public Employees Retirement System -- CalPERS, as it's known -- which administers the Public Employees Medical and Health Care Act. You may find the perk excessive -- I certainly do -- but it's hard to blame workers for accepting what's offered. That can be changed only through collective bargaining, which won't happen until the council leads by example.
But why are council members included? They aren't full-time employees -- they receive stipends, not salaries -- even if they invest 30 or more hours a week on their tasks. Plus, their biggest job is to watch the city's finances, and this perk flies in the face of that.
What makes this so peculiar is council members seem to agree. Councilmen Dan Helix and Edi Birsan and Vice Mayor Ron Leone say they want the perk to end, and Mayor Tim Grayson is leaning that way. I was unable to reach Laura Hoffmeister.
"When I ran in 2010 (and lost), part of my platform was in terminating this," Birsan said. "I ran on the same position in 2012 (when he won). I've brought this up at least six times since being elected."
The devil is in the details. Barone said CalPERS makes the determination that council members are full-time employees, and CalPERS requires that all full-timers are treated alike. "I wish it were a neat and clean issue," she said. "We've done lots of research in trying to find a way out of this."
Helix, who chairs the committee investigating this issue, said he discovered that Concord's benefits are more generous than neighboring cities. Far too generous, he thinks.
"It's unreasonable to expect taxpayers to support lifetime medical benefits for someone who serves a limited period of time on the council," he said.
Four retired elected officials are covered by Concord's plan, at cost of about $22,000 last year. The reason the expense wasn't greater is once a retiree reaches 65, Medicare becomes his or her primary carrier. The city provides supplemental coverage.
A sidebar to this issue is that Grayson and Leone, both first-termers running for re-election, can reach the five-year mark if they win in November, thereby qualifying for the very perk the council presumably is trying to end.
Helix, who is researching the legal obstacles to ending the benefit, thinks the council will vote to fix the problem, but that action may affect only new members. Those who were elected when the benefits were in place likely will retain them.
I doubt that will satisfy Kremin. I'll find out when he emails me today.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org