Council Members May Give Up Their City Insurance, Would Save $90,000

Mayor John Lazar took comments to a personal level during an informational item on the Special City Council Meeting agenda Thursday night.

While Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher and Councilman Ted Howze proposed to give up their medical/accidental insurance compensation and to cut the City’s memberships to state and national organizations, Mayor John Lazar felt that his effort and time was unappreciated.
 
It felt like Mayor Lazar opened up the election season against Vice Mayor Spycher and Councilman Howze as he stated that if they get their way that he hoped a new Council would reverse the vote after November’s election.
 
Mayor John Lazar, Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher, and Councilman Ted Howze are all up for re-election in November.

The statements at the Special Council Meeting held on Thursday, June 17, 2010 make this story the election season’s opener.

 
 
The Turlock Budget Subcommittee, comprised of Mayor John Lazar and Councilman Ted Howze, has previously discussed the account that funds the Turlock City Council’s operation and costs associated with the elected officials.
 
A review of the City Council fund account at Thursday’s, June 17, 2010, Special City Council Meeting was presented as an informational item only and all the recommendations will be made part of the budget adoption to be proposed on June 22, 2010.
 
In the Council agenda packet it shows the City Council’s account has $114,000, up from $50,000 last year, budgeted for their insurance, workers comp, social security, and other personnel costs.
 
Some elected officials are not even taking the insurance and are building up a deferred comp fund.
 
“I think as the Council, as we sit and ask our employees to make concessions and take cuts to keep the city afloat that we as the leaders of this city need to do the same thing and lead with the cuts, i.e. take more than anybody else.”
 
Councilman Howze proposed and wanted to see if there was a consensus amongst his colleagues to give up their medical insurance the City provides for them and to cut the Council’s travel budget and certain organization memberships.
 
“I for one can bare witness to the fruits of our participation. Our community through my involvement, and possibly before that, has benefited from the League of Cities. I know Ted doesn’t see any value in that,” said Mayor John Lazar. “Irrespective of the argument, I think it’s putting your head in the sand like an ostrich, not participating in that organization and/or the Conference of Mayors.”
 
Mayor Lazar stated that he had paid for both of his last two trips to the Conference of Mayors and have brought home projects, including about $1.7 million dollars that came straight from the White House for a transportation project.
 
Councilwoman Mary Jackson “I see the value, I agreed about we can’t be isolationists.”
 
Councilwoman Jackson suggested spending half on the memberships and half on a lobbyist.
 
“I think it’s a good sign to not only the employees (because they’re taking a lot of hits), but also to the community, that we are giving up our medical benefits,” said Councilwoman Jackson.
 
Councilwoman Jackson was concerned that some kind of compensation because she doesn’t want to rule out people who can’t afford to run for office, and that we want the best qualified people to run for office.
 
Mayor Lazar stated that his position is not a part time position.
 
“I would hope that this Council values the efforts and time I’ve put in as Mayor, I know some of you don’t,” said Mayor Lazar. “I do put in a lot of time and effort, particularly during those challenging years when the manager was under siege and he was fired… Irrespective of what you may think, we are worth whatever compensation is provided.”
 
“I don’t do this for the compensation, I know you want to do away with the benefits and I’m happy to support that if that’s the will of the full Council is but I certainly have philosophical differences with you and I don’t intend to vote in favor of eliminating any participation in state or national organizations because I think it’s a folly and I think it’s going to harm the City. Council Members go and come, but that information that would get shared through Council Members to staff and their participation… There was a time when our whole staff participated in the League of Cities and I think we were better for it. Now we have a situation where our staff doesn’t want to step forward because they are intimidated by this Council. I hope and I pray that if in fact this Council decides to take this action it will be restored after the November election with a new Council.”
 
“First off Mr. Mayor, I appreciate all your time you put in, as with all my colleagues, I think we all put a lot of time into this,” said Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher.
 
Vice Mayor Spycher went on to address Mayor Lazar’s comment by pointing out that he’s alright with the $1,000 travel budget for Council Members because he was part of previously advocating cutting that expense from $5,000 down to the current $1,000. Vice Mayor Spycher explained that just as in the case of his decision in the past to get rid of a lobbyist at $60,000 a year, his decisions are consistently based on quantifiable return on investment.
 
“We are in a very dire budget situation right now. When this budget is adopted we still are potentially $3 million in the red every year of negative spending and we need to start taking these things serious and look at everything, and I expect all of our different union groups to take them serious and I hope that they can see a leadership position on our part as we go forward…”
 
Mayor Lazar interrupted and said “Oh I take it seriously and I still think participating in the Conference of Mayors and the League of Cities is very, very important. We at one time were the apple of the eye of the Central Valley and now we’re a second tier city compared to Riverbank and Hughson. It’s a disappointment to me personally to observe Council Members not seeing any value in those organizations. If you’re not there to participate, you’re going to get over-looked.”
 
“So be it, I know you and Mr. Howze have the same philosophy and it’s going to be up to Mrs. Bublak to make that decision, so thank you,” said Mayor Lazar.
 
Vice Mayor Spycher: This isn’t a personal thing.
 
Mayor Lazar: Oh I take it personally.
 
Vice Mayor Spycher: Well ok, for me it’s not personal it’s about…
 
Mayor Lazar: It’s personally for me Mr… Please…
 
Vice Mayor Spycher: Can I finish Mr. Mayor? This isn’t personal, it’s just fiscal. And as I look at this it’s about return on investment and taking a leadership role but this is not personal against any member of the Council.
 
Mayor Lazar: It looks and sounds and plays good.
 
A member of the public, Michael Weston, spoke with concern that this was an attack on the Mayor. He suggested Council take a proportionate cut just as the employees are, sharing the pain equally. Weston suggested that whoever is willing to give the medical benefit up is probably not getting it, and therefore easier to give up. After Vice Mayor Spycher clarified that he is getting the benefit but that the Council’s medical insurance increase is over 100% and he didn’t see how this is any longer affordable for the City, Weston questioned that maybe Vice Mayor Spycher is in a better position to personally absorb the cost.
 
“The dollar amount in relation to the whole budget is nothing, this is just a mean spirited personal attack to try to put the Mayor in the position to defend himself and it will appear like he’s begging for this money that isn’t a big sum of money (in the scheme of things) but it’s significant, and I’m sure to him it’s significant and maybe there’s others.”
 
Weston didn’t believe the face value is that significant and more of a slap in the face to the public officials.
 
Councilman Ted Howze pointed out that there are many issues of the budget that don’t appear to have significant face value but that residents could be benefitting from such as the proposal to cut recreation swimming sessions at Pitman and Turlock High School which could realize budget savings of $18,000.
 
“Quite frankly those of us sitting up here as electives  didn’t run for $500 stipend or health insurance, plain and simply,” said Councilman Howze. “So the health insurance in my opinion, It’s just mine, it depends on what the vote is going to be up here, can go away. It’s not going to affect the people who run for this office and why they choose to run for this office, and that money can be spent for other services in the city.”
 
The savings of cutting medical/accidental insurance for elected officials in Turlock would realize savings of about $90,000 annually.
 
“If you wan to bleed, I’ll bleed there, but I draw the line on the participation on the state and national organizations. I think that’s just folly for this Council and the City,” said Mayor John Lazar.
 
Councilman Howze proposed a compromise in his points that he’d be willing to continue appropriations for travel, memberships with the League of Cities, and Conference of Mayors while still advocating cutting medical insurance for elected officials.
 
After all the debate and discussion, Mayor John Lazar asked if Councilwoman Amy Bublak had anything to say since he put pressure on her with his statement earlier in the meeting.
 
Councilwoman Bublak stated that she’d wait until the June 22nd Council Meeting when they actually vote on the item that was presented as an informational item during this time.
 
“Stay tuned,” said Councilwoman Bublak.

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