The Brentwood Board of Aldermen met Monday night in a multipurpose room at the Brentwood Rec Center, and it was just big enough for the almost 60 residents that came to find out about a benefit their mayor and some of the aldermen had: city-paid health insurance.
When Brentwood’s three newest aldermen came into office in April, they did so without city-paid insurance, a benefit that Brentwood aldermen have had access to since the early 1990s.
Mayor Pat Kelly said in the board of aldermen meeting Monday night that the health insurance for elected officials is being phased out, simply by not offering it to incoming officials.
In the public comment portions of the board of aldermen meeting Monday night, Brentwood residents came to the podium one after the other and spoke their minds about their aldermen and mayor receiving city-paid insurance. There was encouraging applause for each.
Residents take the podium
Jim Pozzo was first. He said he was “surprised and shocked” the aldermen had a benefit like health insurance.
“It’s just not right, because you’re not employees. You’re elected, and you’re volunteering your time,” he said. “You’re putting in your time for the people, and I don’t see where you guys get these benefits increases your care of the people, or how it helps us.”
He compare the situation to the Brentwood firemen who were paid overtime for years. “You handled the firemen a certain way, I think you should do the same thing for yourselves,” he said.
Tom Martin said he was “surprised and shocked” that the Brentwood mayor has a $14,000 salary and Clayton’s mayor earned $6,000.
“The worst part of this is that this has been kept a secret more or less from the tax payers of this city,” he said, “and it’s taken some of the recently elected aldermen and women to bring this to light.”
Molly Hancock wanted to know how the Brentwood aldermen and mayor’s job was so different from the same positions at nearby cities that justified such a big pay spread.
Katherine Boyd wanted to know why they didn’t think their salaries and benefits isn’t a mismanagement of money?
“The money that’s here is ours,” Boyd said. “It’s a huge issue for us, and obviously, with so many people here, it’s our right and our job to take back that right and use it properly, and to show you guys this is how we want our city run.”
Julie Pozzo, who went door to door on Sunday to get some of the crowd to the meeting, said she doesn’t like to go to board of aldermen meetings, but thinks she needs to because there’s no adult supervision.
“You were not hired, you were elected,” she said. “You are here to serve the community and not for the compensation.
“It just isn’t right,” Pozzo said, “especially at this time when people are out of jobs and have to pay large premiums to keep medical insurance. You need to pay back the city.”
Karen Smith said that there was discrimination because the insurance was not uniformly offered. She was also confused, she said because she said city administrator Bola Akande had told her they’re not considered employees, but Kelly had said earlier in the meeting that they are considered fulltime employees for the purposes of benefits.
Kelly responds to the criticism
Kelly responded at the end of the first volley of comments.
He said he has talked about the benefits publicly, most recently at his monthly coffee with the mayor, where “20 or 30” people were there. He said there were no questions.
He said the salaries of the aldermen and mayor are set by ordinance, most recently in 2000.
“In early 2000, the board of aldermen elected to raise the salaries of both the aldermen and the mayor because they hadn’t been raised n more than 20 years,” he said.
“At that time, one of the deciding factors was the fact that the city judge, who meets twice a month, had a salary of $12,000 a year. The board of aldermen thought the mayor’s salary should be higher than the judges. So the judges was $1,000 a month and the board of aldermen decided to make the mayor’s $1,200 for the mayor.”
Kelly said the new salary went into effect with the new office-holder. It was him.
He said the insurance benefit “has been offered to the elected officials throughout the years. Why some people didn’t know about it, I’m not going to speak to that.”
He said the city went into a self-insured program with several area cities in the 80s to save costs.
“I think the confusion is, people say because we can’t find the records, that we haven’t had time to go back and look, that we’re all bad people trying to cover something up,” Kelly said. “That has never been the intent.”
Brentwood joined SLAIT (St. Louis Area Insurance Trust) in 2009, and the aldermen who had been insured with the city were grandfathered in. The new aldermen aren’t being allowed to participate, and eventually all elected officials will be gone.
Maureen makes a motion to end the benefit
Alderwoman Maureen Saunders said it was wrong at the time to include the elected officials at that time.
She made a motion, and Manestar seconded it, to end the health care benefit.
Alderman Anthony Harper said he wanted to look into the history of the benefit, before voting to end it, and Saunders agreed and withdrew her motion.
“I’d like to see it end,” Saunders said after the meeting, “but I’m OK, if they need to get some information for Anthony Harper, and he’s one that’s not participating. We’re not employees, and I don’t think it’s a benefit that we’re entitled to.”