Although no one knows when it began, the longtime practice of providing free health insurance to Brentwood’s part-time elected officials will end Aug. 31.
The measure that sealed its fate, introduced by Ward 1 Alderwoman Maureen Saunders, passed by vote of 4-3 at the Monday night Board of Aldermen meeting at City Hall. One alderman loudly recused himself in a drama-filled night complete with raised voices, finger-pointing and fists slamming on tables.
Residents remained rapt in their seats. Only a few left before the general meeting ended at about 11 p.m. Then the board went into closed session.
The vote to end the health-care perk for elected officials occurred four hours into the meeting. Saunders, Alderwoman Cindy Manestar and Aldermen Anthony Harper and Keith Robertson voted to approve the measure. Aldermen Lee Wynn, Tom Kramer and Patrick Toohey, who unsuccessfully sought to amend the measure when it was his time to vote, opposed the measure.
Neither Mayor Pat Kelly nor Ward 3 Alderman Andy Leahy cast votes.
In a lengthy discourse, Leahy attempted to explain how the insurance benefit might have become available to elected officials: more bodies and fewer costs for everyone in the overall plan. Brentwood participates in a self-insurance pool with several cities.
The Ward 3 aldermen also questioned whether or not the board even had the legal right to vote to terminate benefits because they “would be taking an action that could financially benefit or subtract from" them.
Leahy said he couldn’t participate in the vote to terminate health insurance for Brentwood’s elected officials “because his vote was tainted” by an email he received from Saunders. It was “blackmail,” Leahy said, and was intended to sway his vote on health insurance measure. Leahy likened Saunder’s email to a tactic of “it’s my way or the highway."
Leahy abruptly left the room before the vote—but not before Saunders countered.
“It was a personal email written from my personal account to your personal account,” Saunders said. “It was an agreement you and I had made in Jeff City, as a (St. Mary) Magdalen parishioner to another Magdalen parishioner.”
Saunders was referencing a meeting she and Leahy attended in Jefferson City.
“At Jeff City, this issue was brought up while we had the attorney general there. We asked the attorneys: Do you need to recuse yourself if you’re going to decrease your benefits? They told us, 'No.' There is no conflict of interest,” Saunders said, “and Andy informed us that he was going to vote to end the benefits."
There is no gain with a positive vote to end the practice, and a negative vote only maintains the status quo, Saunders said.
Speaking directly to Leahy, Saunders said: “I take exception to you using 'blackmail' when you’re going to recuse yourself so there’s an odd number of votes and mayor won’t have to vote.”
The vote that followed months of wrangling took minutes.
“I just want people to understand that this vote does not mean that these gentlemen (who received the health care benefit) did anything illegal or wrong,” Wynn said.
Kelly and aldermen Kramer, Leahy and Robertson participated in the city-paid free health insurance program.
Leahy didn’t know about the benefit initially but enrolled in the program after serving as a board member for six years. Robertson has regularly reimbursed the city for his participation.
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