No thank you!

Published 9:57 am Thursday, August 18, 2016

WINTON – Thanks for offer, but no thanks.

That was the sentiment of four members of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners who voted against a plan here Monday night that would have led to their personal financial gain.

It was at this regularly scheduled meeting where an entry on the agenda called for a request for approval of a resolution establishing uniform medical insurance coverage, post employment, for the Hertford County Local Government elected officials.

The county’s current personnel policy does not address elected officials. The policy does award a local government employee, with 30 years of service to Hertford County, paid individual medical insurance upon their retirement.

What was presented before the Commissioners at Monday’s meeting was to grant post-employment medical coverage to the county’s elected officials, to include the Commissioners, the County Sheriff, and the Register of Deeds. The only stipulation to receiving that insurance was that the elected individual is required to serve four full consecutive terms in office.

The Hertford County Clerk of Court is not eligible for such benefit as they are covered under the Administration of NC Courts.

“This policy will give elected officials, because of their status, different triggers to receive the health insurance at post employment, as long as they have fulfilled the criteria of serving four full consecutive terms in office,” said Hertford County Manager Loria Williams. “Basically what it does it gives special consideration to elected officials. It makes our existing policy uniform across the board with our other retirees.”

The policy amendment further states that the county will pay for a retiree’s individual medical coverage, but in no instance will that benefit exceed the cost of an active employee’s individual coverage.

It also states that when a retired employee becomes eligible for Medicare, the county’s paid insurance coverage becomes secondary to that federal program. Additionally, should a retiree decide to return to work at another place of employment and opt for group medical coverage there, the county’s insurance plan for that individual becomes void.

Should an elected official meet the terms of the policy, but otherwise fail to serve their tenure in office with honor, such elected official will not be entitled to the medical insurance post employment. Dishonorable service includes conviction of a felony, conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, admonishment by the Board of Commissioners, and/or forcibly removed from office by actions of the Governor.

“I disagree with part A. I. of this policy where it states that county commissioners are eligible if they meet the criteria,” said Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer. “Commissioners are not technically employees of the county. We shouldn’t qualify for this benefit. I recommend striking that part of the policy. I have no problem with the other two (Sheriff and Register of Deeds qualifying for the benefit).”

Farmer went on to recommend that if this revision to the county’s personnel policy is approved, it become effective retroactive to the start of the current fiscal year (July 1, 2016).

“I agree with Commissioner Farmer, the commissioners are not full-time employees of the county,” said Commissioner Curtis Freeman.

“I concur,” chimed in Commissioner Bill Mitchell.

The four commissioners present (Chairman Ronald Gatling was absent from Monday’s meeting) voted to amend Section 7.2 of the Hertford County personnel ordinance effective July 1, 2016 to read as presented to the board with the deletion as recommended by Farmer. That motion was approved without objection.

Ironically, the rejection of the medical insurance coverage for the Commissioners impacts Freeman and Farmer. Both were sworn in to their current four-year terms in December 2014. That now gives Freeman 18 years of service while 2016 marks Farmer’s 16th year in office, meaning both would qualify for the benefit had they chosen to approve it.

For clarity, the amended ordinance does include post-employment medical insurance to the Sheriff and Register of Deeds as long as they meet the aforementioned criteria.

As stated by county policy, since the proposal is a revision to the personnel ordinance, it requires two readings and two separate votes by the Commissioners before adoption or denial. The Board will have the second reading and a second vote at their next regularly scheduled meeting.

Prior to the discussion and vote on the matter, one county resident implored the commissioners to vote against the measure.

“Why would the board feel the need to acknowledge an official, who has been elected to serve at the pleasure of the voters of this county, with a post-service medical insurance plan,” asked David Simons of Murfreesboro.

“Elected officials should be honored to serve the people of this county; their compensation should be limited to their time of tenure,” he continued. “It is not the county’s or taxpayers responsibility to reward officials elected to office who are not also full-time employees of the county any type of monetary or any compensation beyond their time and service to the people of this county.”

As an elected official himself (Simons is a 16-year veteran of the Herford County Soil & Water District Board of Supervisors), he said such individuals make sacrifices to do the job at hand.

“I run for that elected position to help and educate the citizens of this county on the need for conservation practices with our valuable natural resources,” Simons noted. “I would not accept this plan if it were offered. It would not be fair to our taxpayers. Sacrifices are part of the position when elected to serve.

“To implement this uniform policy for medical insurance coverage post-service for elected positions sounds more like compensation for an official that is either not reelected or elects not to run for office,” Simons concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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