There are times when a magic wand would really be useful in dealing with issues at the City Council level. The reality: there is no magic wand. Problems we want to solve have complexities that seem to multiply and make every task daunting, even when we are persuaded that an existing policy is long overdue for modification. The best example of this occurred when we set out to change a policy created two decades ago by the then-serving council.
The issue was how to change existing lifetime health benefits granted to City Council members who completed five years or more of elective service. To provide you with a bit of perspective, in the 1980s, annual health care costs were about $1,100 per person. These costs escalated to about $9,810 a person in 2013. The problem was that under the existing policy these costs continued long after the individual council member had ceased serving in an active capacity.
I believed this policy was inherently unfair to the residents of Concord, and created an ad hoc committee to address my concerns and develop an alternative policy which would correct this inequitable situation and bring it into the realm of reality. I appointed council members Dan Helix and Laura Hoffmeister to this special committee to work with the staff and create a solution that the City Council could adopt.
The need for the aforementioned magic wand became immediately apparent. The committee was forced to recognize that there was a limited flexibility available to the city to eliminate retiree medical benefits. Even the secondary goal of eliminating retiree medical benefits for future elected officials was fraught with bureaucratic rules and regulations that were complicated and restrictive.
The "fly in the ointment" was related to Concord's contract with the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and regulations in the Public Employees' Medical and Hospital Care Act (PEMHCA).
The city is subject to maintaining compliance with the rules and regulation of CalPERS and PEMHCA, and to complicate matters even more, these two programs are governed by other applicable California laws, including the California Public Employees Retirement Law (PERL).
To say that the CalPERS board, the final arbiter of all rules subject to its review, is not amenable to change is to state the obvious in the extreme. We were quickly advised that pursuant to California Government Code Section 36516.5, we are specifically prohibited from making any changes to salary and benefits in their current term, so the effective date of any change in the elected officials' benefits would need to be on a prospective basis, meaning the change would be effective following the next election in November 2014, and this would apply only to all future elected officials in a "new non-CalPERS group."
If you're still with me, I salute you. The ad hoc committee recommended to the City Council that there should be no CalPERS pension benefits for newly elected officials, and that eligibility for medical benefits for newly elected officials should be severely limited, to wit: eligibility is limited to those members who have served 30 consecutive years as an elected official and would qualify only at the minimum age of 65.
The Concord City Council adopted these changes unanimously. But our job is not done. We still have follow-on resolutions that need to be adopted before these changes are official. One requires that we have a special meeting near the end of August, when we normally do not have any scheduled meetings. To repeat my earlier comment: nothing is easy. But the message is important. We, the City Council, and I, as mayor, remain committed to saving as much money as we can. Even a small amount saved is important. Pennies count, and wherever we can save money is important.
I would like to give you a shorthand version of all this complicated material, so let me leave you with this summary:
Finally, a new topic. We recently passed a resolution putting a proposed extension of Measure Q into the hands of the voters. We have worked to be faithful stewards of the public's money and hope they will support our request to extend this existing half-cent sales tax.
It will make the difference between continuing vital services, and the deterioration of the service level we have been forced to accept. With this extension, Concord has a very bright future. Thanks for taking the time to read this report.
Tim Grayson is the mayor of Concord. Contact him at email@example.com.