Sunday, April 24, 2011

Returning Unnecessary Health Benefits Back to the City of San Mateo

This weekend, the San Mateo County Times ran an investigative piece into the use of health benefits for part-time elected officials.  Below is a copy of the full article, including a quote from me at the end.

As a Councilmember who also has a full-time job as a Deputy District Attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, I consider myself very fortunate.  I am blessed to be in a full-time job that provides me and my family with full health care benefits.

Therefore, as a Councilmember for San Mateo, I decline all health care coverage from the City, and furthermore return the $2,823 in yearly flexible benefit spending allocated to me.  That $2,823 is converted back to City funds.  Other than the $600 monthly salary paid for work as your Councilmember, I receive no other compensation or benefit from the City of San Mateo, or you, the taxpayers.  

As your Councilmember, I continue to strive to be as financially prudent as possible without sacrificing the character and quality of our City.


Scores of elected officials receive free health care on taxpayers' dime

By Thomas Peele and Daniel Willis
Contra Costa Times
© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group

Hundreds of part-time elected officials throughout the Bay Area received full-time health care benefits in 2010 at taxpayer expense, with individual policies sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars, according to government compensation data acquired by Bay Area News Group and published on its websites Sunday.

Several officials with multiple government positions double-dipped on health coverage, receiving two taxpayer-funded policies, the data show, and at one small school district in San Jose, the cost of health coverage provided to an elected official was more than four times higher than the cost of insurance provided to each rank-and-file employee.

"The only reason there isn't more outrage is that most people aren't aware of this," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "It amounts to a gift of public funds, a theft from taxpayers. That's what it comes down to."

The double-dippers include Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover, whose health coverage at his county job cost taxpayers $15,439 and who took a second policy valued at $15,666 through his part-time job as a board member of the Delta Diablo Sanitation District in Pittsburg. Glover called the district's insurance "a standard offering" commonly available to part-time officials.

Some accepted coverage that cost far in excess of their part-time elected pay. One was Mt. Pleasant School Board member Gail Tremaine in San Jose, whose yearly gross salary was $2,880 and whose insurance cost the district $32,699. Teachers in that district, which has five schools, were limited last year to health coverage capped at $7,500.

Tremaine said her taxpayer-funded policy covered her and two children but declined to discuss the benefit further. The district also paid $23,396 in benefits to board President Darell Koide and $15,150 each to two other elected board members, figures exceeding coverage amounts of all the district's 271 employees except the superintendent, the data show.

"Board members have always received benefits, for about the last 30 years. They have a tradition of getting benefits," said district Superintendent George Perez. "It's the way it's always been."

A more limited version of the online database focusing on salaries has been published each of the past three years, but now taxpayers can see the full tally of what public employees cost, including how much agencies contribute toward employees' pensions, insurance and deferred compensation. Information for more than 250 government agencies in 10 counties in and around the Bay Area is available at and

Free, taxpayer-funded health care plans are commonly offered to officials elected to part-time positions, the data show. The benefits have been handed out for years, although the public has been generally unaware because of a lack of disclosure of public employee compensation costs before a 2007 California Supreme Court ruling.

Some elected officials turned down coverage, but others took cash bonuses -- sometimes totaling more than $6,000 -- meant as incentives to encourage full-time workers to seek medical insurance elsewhere, the data show.

According to an annual survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only one in four private employers even offers health benefits to part-time employees. But in local government, it's a different story.

The awarding of such benefits when cities are in dire financial situations shows why local governments "are going the wrong way," said Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, president of the League of California Cities.
Health coverage, on principle, should be reserved for full-time government workers, he said.
"This is why we got some cities in trouble," Ridenour said. "It's not right."

Part-time elected officials "need to get paid something," he said, but, "I just don't agree that we should get health insurance, not unless it's a full-time job."

Ridenour doesn't receive city benefits, although his elected position is considered full time.

A free benefit

The data show:

  • The average benefit cost for part-time officials, either a combination of as many as three policies -- medical, dental and vision -- or a cash payment in lieu of coverage, was $9,122. The average salary paid to elected officials serving on city councils, school boards and special districts in 2010 was $7,099

  • Sixty-one percent of cities that provided data either offered their elected officials health benefits or paid them cash to decline coverage in 2010. Cities offering coverage spent an average $8,508 per official on health benefits or cash payments in 2010, exceeding the average $8,037 provided in pay.

  • Forty-seven percent of responding school districts paid health coverage for elected officials or bonuses to decline coverage, costing taxpayers an average $8,795 each, more than twice the average $3,719 districts provided each in pay. And 38 percent of special districts that provide water, sewer, fire, transportation and other services gave elected officials medical insurance or waiver bonuses, at a similar cost.

  • What's more, the benefits offered public officials often are more generous than those available from private employers, with officials contributing little if anything toward the premium cost. The expenses detailed in the database show only what governments paid to provide health insurance per official and do not include what any individual contributed toward their coverage. But officials interviewed for this story indicated they don't contribute much, if anything, toward their insurance premiums.

    According to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey, covered employees nationally pay an average 18 percent of single and 29 percent of family health plan premiums, with three-quarters having co-payments, averaging $22, for doctor visits. Many workers also must pay deductibles, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars a year, on top of premiums and co-payments.

    It's unclear how common it is nationally for employers to pay their workers who decline coverage. But Paul Fronstin, who studies health insurance for the nonprofit Employee Benefits Research Institute in Washington, D.C., believes few companies make such offers because it could actually increase their insurance costs or jeopardize coverage.

    Employers keep premiums in check by guaranteeing a large pool of covered workers, he explained. Encouraging workers to decline coverage, he said, would result in a smaller, sicker pool of covered workers, raising the costs to insure them.

    "If people opt out," Fronstin said, "it puts your plan in jeopardy."

    The part-time official with the highest insurance cost found for last year was James Nejedly, a commissioner of the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, whose policy covering him and three family members cost $35,636.

    He said he was unaware of the policy cost until he learned Bay Area News Group was requesting compensation data.

    "That's a large amount. I am the first person to say that number's totally out of whack. It's crazy," said Nejedly, a member of a prominent Contra Costa political family whose brother and sister also hold elected offices.

    He said he will consider dropping the coverage or pushing policy changes to lower costs.


    The data also revealed that some part-time elected officials who work full time for other government entities take health insurance from both. 

    Glover -- whose publicly funded health benefits totaled $31,105 for his positions on the Delta Diablo Sanitation District and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors -- said he used one policy for him and the other for his wife.

    He began taking benefits from the sanitary district when he was appointed to its board in 1996 to represent Pittsburg. He started taking benefits from Contra Costa County when he was elected supervisor in 2000, but kept the sanitary district's benefits after he was again appointed to that board, this time as the county representative.

    "This benefit is a standard offering and it is a system which was in place before my entry into public life. I must admit, when I was first elected to the (Pittsburg) City Council, I was surprised at its availability," Glover wrote in response to questions.

    He said his wife will join the county's health insurance next year and he will drop the district's policy.
    Antioch Mayor James Davis, who is also a Delta Diablo board member, took a health policy from the sanitary district that cost $21,444. He was also eligible for a health plan from Antioch. In a common practice, however, he declined full coverage from the city and took a $6,171 cash payment.

    Those benefits were in addition to the $4,566 salary Davis received for sitting on the Delta Diablo board. The three-member body oversees the sanitary district, which employed 79 people last year and provides sewer service to Bay Point, Pittsburg and Antioch. The board meets once a month; its members are appointed.

    All told, Davis -- who works full time as an executive with Bank of the West -- received $32,182 in taxpayer-funded compensation last year for his two government positions.

    Davis said he declined the insurance coverage offered him at Bank of the West because the sanitary district's policy provided better care and cost him less out of pocket for prescriptions and other expenses. He said he viewed its Blue Shield insurance as compensation for his time.

    "I am not trying to justify it," he said, "but I give up a lot of recreational time."

    He said he uses vacation days to conduct board business, such as attending meetings out of state. "We put in a lot of hours." The Delta Diablo board's third member -- Pittsburg Mayor Nancy Parent -- did not take district benefits, according to the data.

    As for Antioch, Davis said eliminating the city's policy of providing cash payouts to elected officials for declining coverage "is something we can consider."

    'Meager' compensation

    Another member of the Antioch City Council, Brian Kalinowski, also took cash -- $6,090 -- in 2010 for declining the city's health coverage. For his job as a Contra Costa County sheriff's lieutenant, the county paid $15,422 in insurance costs for him last year, data show.

    "I get (cash) because I don't take the benefit," Kalinowski said. "It is what it is. I don't think there's a problem with it."

    He said his total compensation from Antioch of $27,555 -- the combined figure of salary and all benefits -- "isn't off the charts."

    Peralta College District trustee Nicholas Gonzalez Yuen took coverage through his elected position and an additional six months of coverage through his full-time job as a professor at the Foothill De Anza Community College District in Santa Clara County.

    The six months of double coverage cost Foothill De Anza $7,064 and Peralta $23,320.

    Gonzalez Yuen said he saw no problem in taking Peralta's benefits as a part-time elected trustee.

    "It's fairly meager," he said of the elected position that paid him a salary of $11,040. All told, the Oakland college district spent $35,533 on Gonzalez Yuen in 2010, which includes medical coverage, pension contributions and other expenses, such as disability insurance.

    "We need to be compensated in some other ways" beside salary, Gonzalez Yuen said, and health benefits is one of them. "We are ambassadors to the community."

    San Rafael Mayor Albert Boro is another official who received double coverage. He took $14,198 in health coverage from his part-time city job and another insurance policy as a Golden Gate Bridge District
    commissioner that cost $19,293, according to the data. He didn't return repeated phone calls to his home.
    Some said they saw few options when it came to the dual benefits.

    Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, who works as assistant to the city manager of Clayton, received $7,603 for health coverage from Clayton, the data show, while Concord gave her $6,992 to decline its coverage.

    "Certainly, it raises questions," Hoffmeister said. But she said that because elected officials are lumped in with regular city employees in the Concord payroll system, she only has two options: take the health coverage or decline it and get cash.

    "It all comes in one check," she said. "If I didn't opt to take the waiver, I'd get the coverage." Concord's payroll system is set up so "you can't treat a segment of the employees differently," she said.

    David Lim, who works full time for Alameda County and is a San Mateo council member, said he didn't know that San Mateo automatically spent $2,823 on a flexible medical spending account for him last year after he declined complete city health coverage. The unused money, he said, reverted to the city.

    Lim defended the benefits, saying they serve as an incentive to encourage people to run for office.
    "I think you should give health care to city council members," Lim said. "You want everyone to have the opportunity to run for office. I am a lawyer; I get benefits from my job. But what about someone who is self-employed? "... I don't know anybody who does this for the money."

    Stanley Caldwell, an elected board member of the Mt. View Sanitary District in Martinez, said he would be "up the creek" without the health benefits he receives from that part-time job, a policy that cost taxpayers $12,781. Caldwell also sits on the board of the California Special Districts Association, an advocacy group, and said its data show that about half the officials who sit on district boards statewide take benefits.

    Each government entity makes a decision to pay officials' benefits based on what it can afford, he said.

    "I think it can be justified," said Caldwell, who is retired. "I put in a lot more time than I get compensated for."

    No comments:

    Post a Comment