Since the start-up of BlueNC, I haven't paid a lot of attention to local politics. So imagine my surprise to find that the Chapel Hill Town Council voted on Monday to give its members health insurance for life. I can't find the story covered here, so I apologize if this is old news to everyone besides me.

But old news or not, I have to say, I'm stunned.


Effective July 1, Town Council members who have left office after at least two full terms (eight years) can receive the same level of continued coverage as retired full-time employees who have worked 15 to 20 consecutive years. The town would pick up 75 percent of the premium; the council member, 25 percent.

A former council member also may purchase continued dependent coverage after leaving office, and must pay 100 percent of the premium.
Even more disturbing, the motion passed 8 to 1, with all but one new council member voting in their own self interest.

One of the members who voted for this bill needs to bring it up for reconsideration. With the benefit of citizen input, I'm confident council members will see the error of their ways and repeal this ridiculous action.

Hat tip to Progressive Pulse



This is an eyebrow-raiser for sure, Jim.  The issue has been discussed in the last few days -- chime in on "Oy, the heat" or Fred's post on this particular topic, all since Monday.  It's not too late for citizen reaction to overturn the Town Council's extravagant vote. 
lamented the fact that he missed the deadline for applying for insurance by 29 years. I only served two years. Shouldn't I get a pro-rated deal? All joking aside, this plan stinks. I'm sure there's some twisted logic somewhere that makes health insurance for life defensible for a person working part-time for as little as eight years, but it sure as heck escapes me.

We just started covering Chapel Hill gov't regularly and this came at us rather quickly. Here's what we managed to get in this week's paper:

The council also changed its health insurance coverage rules extending coverage to council members after they leave office.

Under the old law, council members could get health insurance through the town, but coverage ended when their term ended. Now, once a council member serves two full terms, or eight years, that person will be able to get health insurance coverage from the town after leaving the council. The town will pay for 75 percent of the cost of the insurance and the former council member will pay the other 25 percent.

According to the council committee’s report, both Durham and Orange county commissioners already get 100 percent of the cost of their health insurance paid for when they leave office after serving two full terms, or eight years. The town of Cary starts subsidizing its council members’ health insurance at 50 percent after two terms, 75 percent after three terms and 100 percent after four terms.

Checking on Carrboro's arrangement and how long Town of Chapel Hill employees have to work before they are offered the same deal.

You'd think we're competing with Durham and Orange county commissions - and the town of Cary - for talent.  I've not noticed any shortage of candidates here in Chapel Hill.  


Take a look at the survey results that were included with the ordinance that the Council passed Monday. Some jurisdictions get you up to 100%.

In order to bring this back up, someone who voted for it has to make the motion. I have had numerous conversations with people about this and the feeling is, we will move past the current outrage and it will die as an issue. Let's hope not!

Currently, do serving council members get full health care for their family? Do they have to pay? If they want to sweeten the deal for council members they could give them full coverage, including family, with no premiums while in office and for one year after out of office (to cover time spent finding full-time work that has health care).

One man with courage makes a majority.

- Andrew Jackson

In 2003, the Council made access to the Town’s health care plan available to elected officials but continuation coverage was not an option at that time.  Note that the policy governing FT employees is what applies to members of the Council:  

Sec. 14-59.  Group medical insurance.

(a)   Full-time regular employees.  The town will provide full-time employees group medical insurance including family coverage and pay the total cost of the base plan for the individual employees. Employees and the town will share equally in the additional cost of the base plan for dependent coverage if employees desire to purchase such coverage for family members. 
(b)   Part-time regular employees.  Part-time employees may, if they so desire, purchase group medical insurance through the town, either for themselves of for themselves and their families. 
(1)   Where assigned part-time hours are equivalent to fifty (50) to seventy-four (74) per cent of a full-time position, (but not less than twenty hours per average workweek) the town will pay half the cost of individual coverage and a proportional amount of the additional cost for dependent coverage.
(2)   Where part-time hours are equivalent to seventy-five (75) per cent or more of a full-time position, the town will pay seventy-five (75) per cent of the cost of individual coverage and a proportional amount of the additional cost for dependent coverage.
Provided, however, that where a part-time employee has worked an average work week of not less than thirty-seven and one-half (37.5) hours for two (2) quarters, consecutive or non-consecutive, in a twelve-month period, the employee will be eligible to receive medical insurance coverage on the same basis as a full-time employee. Medical insurance coverage shall continue at the full-time employee rate for at least twelve (12) months from the date of the initial change in coverage eligibility. After twelve (12) months, each employee's average work week will be reviewed to determine continued eligibility for full-time medical coverage. An employee would remain eligible for coverage as long as he/she continues to work an average workweek of not less than thirty-seven and one-half (37.5) hours in each succeeding quarter. The same principles will apply where a part-time employee has worked an average work week of not less than thirty (30) and not more than thirty-seven and one-half (37.5) hours for two (2) quarters, consecutive or non-consecutive, in a twelve-month period; that employee would receive coverage for seventy-five (75) per cent of the individual medical insurance premium and proportional coverage for the dependent health insurance premium.
(c)   Notification.  Information concerning the cost and benefits of the group medical insurance program shall be available to all employees through the human resources department. No changes will be made in the cost, benefits, or coverage of the program without prior notification to all covered employees. 
(d)   Members of the town council are eligible to participate in the group medical insurance program on the same basis as full-time employees. Eligibility for participation in this coverage shall cease with the expiration of the term of office.

I have mixed feelngs about this policy. I do think that health insurance has become insanely expensive - to the point where peopel stay in jobs that they woudl otherwise leave, just to stay covered. So I think it can have a beneficial effect on helping people with less personal wealth to be able to afford to be on the Council.

However, I know how I feel about the way this was passed without public discussion. I don't like it. And continuing to cover people after they leave the Council makes very little sense to me.

Staying in jobs is one compromise, but we long ago reached a level of insanity in which people get MARRIED to get health coverage.

And yet, I too have mixed feelings. Covering town council members after their term makes sense if you are also covering town employees after a certain number of years of service.  

we all get health care after President Obama is elected?

We all have the ability to buy health insurance at a yet unestablished premium if Senator Obama (or any number of other candidates) moved through the primaries and then becomes our elected President and then said President can get the Congress and Senate to agree to a plan.

Which is an improvement on people being denied the ability to buy health insurance at a yet unestablished premium.

But I wouldn't call that "we all get health care".

I usually agree with the actions of the current council, but this is a mistake and I would support any resolution to rescind it.  Council service is just that, service.   It is not and should not be a full-time job with long-term professional perks.  The argument that council service is time-consuming and therefore councilmembers are limited to part-time jobs that don't provide health insurance is ridiculous, almost insulting to those of us who served while maintaining full-time careers.   Any councilmember can, of course, allow the task to fill long hours by accepting every invitation, participating in every controvery, and studying every issue at a detailed level, but this doesn't help her or him better provide the philosophical guidance that town citizens and town employees need and expect.

Obviously the timing is terrible.  The council provides itself a major perk while significantly increasing taxes during a tough budget year?



"The argument that council service is time-consuming and therefore councilmembers are limited to part-time jobs that don't provide health insurance is ridiculous, almost insulting to those of us who served while maintaining full-time careers.   Any councilmember can, of course, allow the task to fill long hours by accepting every invitation, participating in every controvery, and studying every issue at a detailed level, but this doesn't help her or him better provide the philosophical guidance that town citizens and town employees need and expect.

I resigned in the middle of my second four-year term because I really could not be on the council and work a 50 hour a week job 30 miles away. When I was elected to my first term I was a student at Carolina, and I had a tough time making a transition to the real world. I still have the same job 30 years later, except it is more than 50 hours now, but my commute is just 8 miles.

Quick, name another CH council member who resigned in the middle of his second four-year term to have a real life ... phone lines are now open.

Mark Chilton in 1997! Although it was not the demands of work that pulled him away. ;-)

I have to say that when I ran for Council in 1999, the fact that I was working full-time in Raleigh was a serious impediment. I doubt I could have sustained it if I had won (g*d forbid).

I am surprised by the Council’s voting to offer health benefits to the Council. In our present town manager form of local government, service on the Council is not intended to be full time work -- this is an unnecessary expense for the Town. Council and Mayor receive a small stipend intended as an honorarium not pay.

The motivation for running for election and serving the public should not be driven by pay or benefits offered, and I am worried offering such a package could encourage people to seek office for these benefits. A benefits package such as this encourages elected officials to become careerists which they are not.

I'd like to see such attractive benefits given to the hard working Town Staff members in fewer years. This part from The Progressive Pulse put it well,
These are the same retiree health benefits that full-time town employees have to work 15 or 20 years to qualify for. How about the guys who work harder than just about anyone picking up household trash and hanging on the back of a town garbage truck in 100 degree heat? I'd say they deserve that sort of health plan after twenty years of work. Heck, I'd say they deserve a lot more than that. But for someone who did a couple of terms on the Town Council? Give me a break.
Can anyone confirm that Town "employees have to work 15 or 20 years" to qualify for health care and Council members only have to serve "two full terms (eight years)"? Also I agree with Joe. This was AWFUL timing for so many reasons.
Sec. 14-59.1.  Group medical insurance for retiring employees.
Employees who retire from town employment without a break in service between town employment and retirement and begin receiving benefits under the local government employees' retirement system may continue medical insurance coverage for themselves under the town's group policy. The town will pay the premium for the coverage (whether on group coverage or Medicare supplement) based on the number of years of town service of the retired employee:

  Retire with Town Service of   Individual Medical Insurance Premium   
At Least   Not More Than   Town Pays   Employee Pays   
5 years   10 years   25%   75%   
10 years   15 years   50%   50%   
15 years   20 years   75%   25%   
20 years      100%   0   
Such employees may elect to purchase medical insurance coverage for their dependents, and shall pay the full cost of this dependent coverage. In the event of the death of a retired employee who was receiving medical insurance coverage, the spouse or dependent may elect to continue group coverage following the expiration of their COBRA benefits by continuing to pay the full cost of this coverage. A retiring employee eligible for this benefit who will reside outside the geographic area covered by the town's insurance plan may elect to receive a sum equal to that paid by the town for use in obtaining other coverage.
(Ord. No. O-83-32, § 1, 6-27-83; Ord. No. 86-6-9/O-8, § 1; Ord. No. 95-1-23/O-1, § 1; Ord. No. 2006-06-26/O-4, § 1)

two full terms for a mayor is four years.

OWASA gives retired employees the option of continuing coverage, but the retiree pays the premium. But because retirees generally use their health insurance more often and have higher cost medical bills, the per employee cost of coverage (as of 3 years ago) was higher than what I pay for independent health insurance due to a small handful of individuals. So even when people have the option of buying into a group policy, their health status can affect the premiums charged to the organization. 

I'm disappointed that this council would provide themselves with a benefit that is not available to permanent, part-time staff. 

The main problem with this is that the Council did this without much public debate or input. One thing I am sure of is that no one has been running for councilman or alderman or commissioner for the renumeration (unless they have some external nefarious arraignments).

The overreaching issue under current course and direction providing healthcare to local government employees with or without including elected officials is going to bankrupt local governments.

This can only be solved at the national level.

Someone made the decision to place the insurance item on the consent agenda and they should own up to it and defend their rationale.
Looks like Mr. Mayor has some 'splaining to do.  Imposing a new and never-ending financial obligation on the town by using an item on the consent agenda is really bad form.

Maybe I'm not reading closely enough, but I haven't seen where the town council has extended benefits to themselves specifically, and if they're changing the benefits package for everyone, then that's a budget issue which needs to be analyzed for its long range financial impact before we can make a judgement. 

We wouldn't even have this problem if the healthcare system wasn't so messed up; it makes zero sense to have healthcare provided by employers in a society in which many if not most people change jobs every few years.   The for-profit insurance system has turned health insurance into one of the top money-makers in the country by screwing over sick people. 

The N&O's Orange Chat blog has posted a letter from Mayor Foy:

This matter grew out of the changing nature of the health care industry. The particular issue is that council members who develop a serious health problem during service in office, such as cancer or heart disease, could be unable to obtain health care coverage after they leave office, because of their “pre-existing condition.” Continuation coverage is provided to other local elected people, including the Orange County commissioners.

Of course this doesn't address why the item was on the consent agenda and not discussed publicly.

When the Council voted to include themselves on the health insurance for employees in the first place, it moved to the position that asking the voters to be elected to the Council now meant that they were considered "employees" for the purpose of insurance benefits.  Now they are saying that they can't hold another full-time position and do the job that they were elected to do.  Therefore, the only way that they can continue coverage is if the Town lets them stay on the employee group plan.

Did we really mean for them to have greater coverage sooner than REAL employees and better than PART-TIME employees?  The bottom line is that we now have a new construct for PUBLIC SERVICE. 

So in this new model, we will pony up the money to put them in office, we will pony up the money to insure them, and after two terms, we will pony up more money to continue the insurance.  With all due respect, Mayor Foy, people who run for office should have their own insurance in the first place and not look to the taxpayers for their insurance.  What other governments do should not be used to confuse the issue here; after all, we like to reject what others do (except when it's not convenient to do so).

Why not do right for our employees before taking care of those who voluntarily run to supposedly serve us as elected officials?

From the consent agenda item:

"Some Council Members have determined that in order to keep up with the demands of serving on the council part time employment (which many times make them ineligible for health care benefits through other employers) is their only option"

I don't object to the council members having the opportunity to purchase health insurance through the group policy while in office. But if the council believes their service warrants access to the town's group health insurance policy, then they need to make the same opportunity available to all other permanent and temporary town employees. Anything less, puts council membership as a special class deserving of privileges above and beyond other town volunteers and employees.

Extending the opportunity to continue receiving the free or partially paid benefit after leaving office will have significant long-term impact on town premiums. At the very least, there should have been an financial assessment prior to the vote.

This decision is going to hit those incumbents up for re-election hard.


Doesn't the mayor's letter miss the point? It's irrelevant whether elected officials in other jurisdictions receive continuation coverage. The issue is that full-time town employees now must work twice as many years as council members (and more than 3 times as long as the mayor) to receive the same benefit. I think that's more problematic than the decision to put the matter on the consent agenda.

Well, yes, of course, it really stinks when you lose your job and have a pre-existing condition. You can COBRA your coverage for awhile, but ultimately you may lose coverage, or only be offered coverage too expensive to even contemplate. So, you live in great anxiety while you try to get well and get someone to cover you.


This is how we all live. The difference is that most of us don't have the power to vote ourselves permanent coverage. Using that power drives a wedge a little deeper between the daily experience of our elected officials and the rest of us, and that's never a good thing for democracy.


Is it only coincidence that Congress, which extends itself and its members a similar insurance benefit, has yet to do anything meaningful to reform our health insurance laws, even though there there are more people without insurance now than there were in 1992?  

Lauin Easthom has a blog post up today called Council Health Care, "I hope we abolish this ordinance once and for all."
For some reason I assumed it was unanimous.  What was the vote, and who voted which way? 


Matt C pulled it off the consent agenda and voted no.

Congrats to Laurin for her courageous post on her Blog!

Mark Kleinschmidt has a new blog post about this to, "I will join her in asking the Council to reconsider our vote on Health Care benefits -- hopefully at tomorrow's meeting."

It's too bad that Laurin and Mark didn't resist this motion on the first pass.  Some people take longer to assimilate than others, but the toothpaste is out of the tube.   Rescinding the ordinance has procedural hoops to jump thru. 

I commend these two for expressing their second thoughts.  That takes courage.  They'll have to stick their necks out even further to put this proposition back on the table.   

A large number of concerned citizens are doing more than voicing their outrage at the Mayor and Council over adoption the unbelievably high (and unnecessary) ELEVEN PERCENT tax increase, passage of the taxpayer subsidized campaigns measure to extend their political lives indefinitely at taxpayer expense, and the outrageous lifetime subsidized healthcare ordianance change they voted 8-1 (Chajkowski against) to adopt.

For starters, they created and signed a petition to rescind the health care ordinance change and reopen the matter for public hearings.  You can read and sign their petition online.  Just click here .

The next Town Council meetings promise to be much more interesting and well attended than usual!

I do hope at least 3 more Council members will join Laurin and Mark in the request to rescind their previous vote on this. I've seen the Council do it before - it's not impossible.

I hope there is a lesson learned here about PROCESS. I believe that stipends are an essential tools to make sure that those who aren't independently wealthy or retired can afford the massive amount of time it takes to be an elected official. I haven't made up my mind about whether health insurance needs to be part of that support, but that's because we haven't had an opportunity for public dialog about it.

I have been repeatedly disturbed by the tendency of this Council to do the negotiating behind closed doors and then present a (somewhat) united front in public meetings. This may be an efficient way to create policies, but it does not serve the public! Democracy is messy and slow, but that's what it takes to get people involved in governing themselves. I don't think every citizen should have a vote on every issues - that's why we call it representative democracy.

I urge the Mayor and leaders of the Council to think seriously about being more inclusive of those that they represent. There is a real need for more openness and transparency at Town Hall. Without it, the public will continue to lose trust in folks who I think are otherwise hardworking, smart and progressive - in other words: great elected leaders.

Remember a post where you were not endorsing a council candidate because he would not be a team player? This is why the best teams have strong diverse and independent views. The best results come from teams with tension and contention.

Can you give me a little more to go on? Either name names or link links, Dave. It's all on here, there are even search tools over in the right-hand sidebar.

Anyway, I have lived through some very contentious Town Councils here in the 90's and I hope to never again endure the long meetings and childish behavior that we sometimes saw from that period of unproductive dissent. The ideal is to strike a balance. I think it's perfectly possible to be cooperative even when not agreeing.

The candidate was Will Raymond although I have not successfully found the post.

I think your accusations of hypocrisy, if I read you right, are misplaced. In the case you mention there is a difference between having another point of view and a complete disregard for effective governance. No that isn't code for some sort of do as I say control crap. Knowing how to work inside and outside government is what I'm talking about.

Have you served on a Town committee or board? Do you remember a person whom you shared lots of ideas and values with but every time you tried to get something done they threw a monkey wrench in it? If you've experienced this then you have an idea of where we were coming from.

There is no charge of hypocrisy just my perspective of what makes a good team.

No, I have not spent time on town boards... But I have led and been members of many teams. There is a difference between the "I have the devine truth and everyone else is evil" member of a team and those that have strong rational view points that may be at odds with the prevailing thoughts. It is my experience that teams that are made up of all like minds make serious mistakes because they do not strongly challenge the prevailing thought processes which may be seriously flawed or not thoroughly vetted.

I am asserting that team members that seriously challenge each other, result in better decisions.



No procedural hoops to get through, just a motion and a vote, and an apology, at least from me.


There were no real "negotiating behind close doors" on this one. This item was so at the back of my mind (and maybe others?) when it came up, and I regret that. Sally had called me to alert me to the agenda item, but we talked about it very little and I regret now that I did not pay more attention to this. My website explains more

It's amazing what we had to go through on that night....a town budget, a novel pilot public financing of campaigns in Chapel Hill, the Performance agreement for the People's Channel, etc. and I truly regret that more citizen time and attention was not spent on this health care issue. It certainly was as important as everything else, but it was buried in 9.5 pounds of council material. That's no excuse, but those are the facts.

The council did not have uniformly private discussions about this matter. Back room deals were not being done. Frankly, I felt a bit out of tune with this item because I don't have health insurance with the Town and don't consider myself a future two term council member. I always cross those bridges when they come and try to vote for what is best for others other than msyelf, but in this case, it was the wrong vote.

I know that since this vote that the council has been inundated with citizens' opinions, and the council will respond.





I appreciate that you were not involved in any pre-meeting discussions, but the simple act by the Mayor of putting this on the consent agenda was making a decision to vote on this without a public hearing or even a public airing of the idea.

I have to say that I find this whole thing somewhat amusing.  I mean, what they did was definitely bad but in this area everyone is so gung ho abut having good local government and the town politicians take being a public servant so seriously and then they make a blatant grab in public like this.  They didn't even try to do something behind the scenes that nobody would know about.  It's surreal and also it's funny for it's absurdity.


And they did it at the same meeting at which they raised taxes too!  You couldn't make up stuff this good.


I read today that with regard to raising taxes, Mayor Foy said it wasn't so bad because taxes hadn't been raised the past two years.  Isn't it the case that a percentage of houses are re-assessed every year?  So taxes have been raised each of the last two years, but just for 1/7th of the people and for an amount seven times as much as they deserve in exchange for not getting a re-assessment for seven more years.  (Perhaps 7 should be 5 or 10 in the previous but you get the idea.) 


So this year, in addition to 1/7th of the people getting a tax hike large enough that they won't get another for seven years, everyone will get a separate tax hike.  It sounds like the mayor is using "tax increase" in place of "tax rate incraease."  They are markedly different things. 

Have been out of town and not entirely up to speed on this, but I was unimpressed with the Mayor's explanation in yesterday's CHNews.  And of course, the core problem is the catastrophically broken health care system in general.

But for right now, as I understand it from charts above and discussions, this coverage now applies to elected officials, but only those who have served 5 years or more?  Is that correct?

Also, does anyone have any figures to indicate how many new people this would add to the Town's responsibility for providing coverage -- how many it would have added before the last election, how many it could add after the next election?  

At first glance, the suggestion that the Town might extend COBRA-type coverage up to a couple of years after an elected official leaves the job makes some sense, although the closer that official is to retirement, the less sense it makes.  (Relatedly, would/does the Town's health insurance arrangement include a medicare-supplement type of policy?)

Jose, houses are not re-assessed each year. All real property in Orange County is re-assessed every 4 years. This prosess will hit us in this coming year.

So no property is re-assessed for three years and then in the fourth year it's all re-assessed?  That's interesting, I didn't know that.  It seems an odd way to do it but they probably have their reasons.  I assume when Orange County re-assesses a house the Town of Chapel Hill also uses that newly assessed value when computing taxes.

I don't want to start a whine fest but I was thinking about how much I pay in property taxes and this is what I came up with.  I'll use the amount I pay in property taxes after taking into account the fact that I get to deduct it from my income taxes.

Here goes.  The amount I pay in property taxes is:

--about the same as I pay for water, electricity, telephone, cable TV (I get all channels up to but not including movie channels) and high speed internet

--more than I pay for my car (gas, maintenance and insurance)

--about the same as I pay for food, including eating out

--more than I pay for state taxes

Schools, parks, sidewalks, free public transportation, police and fire, library, art, greenways, great neighbors, clean water, swimming pools, etc. etc.
I find these types of "what you get in return" arguments to be pretty sad when property taxes remain decoupled from returns as forced levies. Certainly our property taxes contribute to and/or support the services you listed, but those who pay property taxes are not allowed to individually judge the values of those services relative to their payments. It is highly disingenuous to sell property taxes in the guise of a universally valuable product. Were it so wonderfully valuable, you wouldn't have to back the tax with law.

I'm interested to see how the reassessment process goes this year. I have some colleagues who live in Durham County whose houses were assessed at values 30-50% above their previous values. In one of those cases, a person's house was valued 10% higher than it was currently listed for on the market where it had sat unsold for six months (and remains unsold). That person appealed the County's decision and the County responded by increasing the value by an additional 2%.

Of course you have an individual say in the value of the services you receive. You have a say through the electoral process and by the decision to live in a community known for high taxes.

Nevertheless, as a community, we are facing a problem that no one wants to talk about directly--what services are we willing to give up in order to keep taxes lower. Chapel Hill taxes are going up because they built a big, fancy public works facility with great (but expensive) environmental features and public art, a new swimming pool, and a new park. Because the town is growing and we need additional fire, police, and schools to support all the new residents. Because we collectively care about the environment so we need sidewalks and public transportation and solar heating at our fire station.

Would you rather build a cheaper facilities (reduced first costs) that costs more to maintain over time? Do you want to forego all public art? Would you be satisfied with private pools and parks? Do you want to keep a standalone public library rather than sharing with the rest of the county? Do you want to continue paying extra school taxes? Do you think it's important to support the Orange County Land Trust or the senior center?

Unless you can identify the services that you value, I don't know how you would proceed to determine what you can live without. There is no way to reduce taxes without reducing services. Right now, it seems to me like the public comment back to elected officials is "we want everything, but we don't want to pay for it."  We need to find a way to balance the services we want/expect with the social structure we want to live in. 



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