City council denies health benefits to mayor

Benefits would have cost city almost $23,000 per year

By Brent Lindquist
[email protected]

FERNDALE — The Ferndale City Council voted unanimously Monday night to deny a request for health benefits from Mayor Jon Mutchler.
  At a council Finance & Administration Committee meeting last week, Mutchler had asked the committee for health care benefits for himself and his family.
  City Administrator Greg Young said at Monday’s city council meeting that he had examined the policies of a number of cities and had found no consistent basis to go on.
  “There’s no set way to determine,” he said. “It’s got to be more of a policy decision. On a broad policy perspective, health care coverage to the mayor could be a way to increase the number of interested applicants. Really, it’s up to you how you do this.”
  Young said benefits could be offered to city council members as well, although council members could not award themselves these benefits directly while in the position. An election would have to intervene.
  Young also noted that the mayor’s benefits would cost the city about $1,900 per month, a cost that isn’t reflected in the 2016 city budget. Finance Director Mark Peterson said the city’s asset insurance payment came in about $28,000 under budget this year, so it could potentially be a source to fund the mayor’s health benefits.
  Council member Cathy Watson simply asked the mayor why he was requesting these benefits.
  “This would be a much better insurance for my family,” Mutchler answered.
  Council member Teresa Taylor noted that the cutoff for health benefits is 80 hours per month, and that the mayor position has traditionally been considered an under-20-hours-a-week job.
  “How do we justify that?” she said. “If it’s a part-time position, I don’t think we should be paying the insurance.”
  Taylor also said that other considerations could be made depending on the circumstances.
  Mutchler said he couldn’t find anywhere that said specifically that the mayor is a 20-hour-per-week position.
  Council member Carol Bersch said she didn’t like the timing of the mayor’s request: “I think we should revisit this at the end of the year.”
  Taylor moved to create an ad-hoc citizen committee to explore the issue, but the motion was not seconded.
  Several community members spoke up during the public comment period, including Lamar McKay, who supported the mayor’s request.
  “What is a mayor, and what does he do? I think he works 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” McKay said. “He’s constantly working. The mayor works a lot of hours.”
  Diana Cox said public servants know the tenets of their jobs before running for election, and that includes the mayor.
  “You have a constant complaint that we have no money,” she said. “When you all ran for these jobs, you know what the deal was. It’s difficult for somebody in my position to spend money we don’t have for something that wasn’t part of the deal.”
  Wendy Lawrence said voting to award benefits to public officials destroys trust in those officials, and that it should be left up to voters to choose whether or not to give elected officials benefits like the ones Mutchler asked for.
  “It is not necessarily a part-time job, but you campaigned on it, sir, you campaigned. You told people that you were going to view it as a part-time job so you could fit it into your other responsibilities,” Lawrence said. “That needs to be open for discussion because none of you really work at this job part-time. The demands of the city are as such that it needs to be a job that you can be flexible and respond as needed when you have particular issues that come up. I recognize that. But I think it is our decision to make, and as you contemplate this, I would ask you to let us decide as to whether or not you all get benefits.”
  Council member Brent Good-rich moved to deny the mayor’s request, and Bersch seconded the motion. It passed unanimously.