(This post includes quotes with instances of profanity. -Ed.)
A request to revisit the issue of healthcare benefits for Wentzville’s elected officials prompted a heated discussion at Wednesday night’s board of aldermen meeting.
Only officials elected this past April were eligible to opt in to the city health insurance plan after the benefit was approved in November 2015. The benefits were a big issue during the elections, and continue to be a topic of discussion on local blogs and Facebook group pages.
The discussion was brought forward by Alderman Michael Rhoades, who requested consensus from the board to bring the issue back into consideration. “This subject is probably not going to go away,” Rhoades said.
“Is this the best usage of taxpayer money?” he asked, expressing concern for inconsistencies he saw with the way the benefits were structured.
Rhoades said he had spent a great deal of time speaking with his constituents. “I haven’t found one citizen–not a single one–that said ‘You guys should have health care, and we should pay for it.'”
One of the inconsistencies Rhoades cited was the lack of healthcare for the city’s part-time employees. City policy states that part-time employees become available for benefits when they accrue 1500 hours in a budget year. But staff also admitted that they monitor that to keep it from happening.
Alderman Rob Hussey, who has been the target of local bloggers after city hall refused to release the names of elected officials accepting city insurance, admitted that he had accepted the benefits. He was the only one of the four eligible elected officials to do so.
Hussey said that he had compiled figures to show that he spent more than full-time hours at his aldermen job. “I’m an alderman when I wake up, I’m an alderman when I go to bed. I’m always on call,” he said. He estimated that after figuring in board meetings, association meetings, phone conversations, committees, ribbon cuttings, and other responsibilities, his alderman’s pay worked out to $11.45 an hour before taxes.
He said that some had suggested that the aldermen should receive no pay at all. “If it was volunteer, I don’t know if I’d be here. My time is worth something,” he said.
Hussey called out the bloggers for saying that he wasn’t supportive of police raises after voting for raises and benefits for the elected officials. “That’s a bunch of bullshit,” he said. “Yes, Alderman Hussey just said it. Bullshit . . . I support [the police] 100 percent.”
Alderman Linda Wright said, “Us having this opportunity is not outrageous . . . I feel like people are trying to intimidate me. I’m not going to be intimidated.”
Guccione talked about the pay raises for the mayor and aldermen, which he felt were necessary to bring the city’s salaries to the level of similar cities. He said that the decision was made before the election, and that misleading information was put out during the election. He also said that the bloggers were cowards who would not post their names or show up at city meetings. “I’m done with it,” he said, and stepped out of the meeting.
Rhoades said, “Never before in the history of Wentzville has any elected official had benefits . . . The part time employees are simply managed so they don’t receive benefits . . . We don’t want to pay their benefits, apparently.”
“I’ve heard a lot of justification as to why we should have benefits, if we’re working that hard to justify them, I don’t know if it’s justification as much as excuses,” he said.
Guccione, who had rejoined the meeting, said that the issue had been voted on and it should not keep getting brought up. He said that the people he talked to supported it, and that it was only being brought up because of the blogs. “I’m not going to dance for some blog,” he said.
Rhoades won Alderman Sonya Shryock over to his side when he suggested that the insurance benefit be deducted from the aldermen’s pay, should an alderman opt in to the city’s plan. With four aldermen willing to reconsider the benefits plan, it will be added to a future agenda.
“I’m done with it,” Guccione said. “I’ll go sit in my office when you talk about it.”
A complete video of the board of aldermen meeting is available for viewing on the city website.