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Westminster council codifies city health benefits over opposition of mayor, who advocated against them

Westminster council members, who are eligible for health care benefits through the city, voted Monday to add reference of those benefits into the city code — over the opposition of the mayor, who contended they shouldn’t be eligible for those benefits in the first place.

The Westminster Common Council voted 4-1 Monday night to pass an ordinance without the signature of Mayor Joe Dominick. The ordinance formally recognizes that elected officials of the city are eligible for benefits in regards to health, vision and dental insurance.

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These benefits have been available to the council since 2014, city documents show — and even longer for mayors of the city — but the ordinance formally codifies it.

City staff said in a July 17 memo they had “observed that the compensation provisions of the City Code may be viewed as ambiguous.” The ordinance was drawn up with the intention of clarifying that ambiguity city staff had noted.

A new line in the city code section for “salaries and compensation” reads, "Elected officials of the City shall be considered to be full-time employees for purposes of eligibility for non-cash employee benefit.”

City Administrator Barbara Matthews outlined Westminster’s benefits package in an email to the Times.

“The City offers medical, dental, and vision insurance benefits to full-time staff and part-time staff members who work at least 20 hours per week. For full-time benefited staff, the City makes a financial contribution for all coverage options (individual, husband/wife, parent/child, and family). For part-time benefited staff, the City only contributes towards the cost of individual coverage; part-time benefited staff can elect other coverage options but they pay 100% of the cost differential," she wrote.

The mayor and council are not considered part-time or full-time employees because they are not considered city employees. They receive a set annual salary, laid out in the city code.

Three weeks prior, the council voted on the ordinance at their regular meeting. Council President Gregory Pecoraro and council members Kevin Dayhoff and Ann Thomas Gilbert voted in favor, whereas Councilman Benjamin Yingling voted against. Councilman Tony Chiavacci was out of town and absent for the meeting.

Afterward, the ordinance went to the mayor for his signature, which he declined to give.

Because of this, it went back to the council for a second vote Monday. All council members voted the same as they did during the previous meeting, with the addition of Chiavacci, who voted in favor. This secured the four-vote majority required for the matter to move forward despite the mayor’s disagreement.

The mayor was required to formally present his reasons for not signing, and he did so through a letter to the council prior to the meeting. It was then entered into the public record of the meeting.

His opposition — and Yingling’s — was not with making the benefits transparent in the city code. His opposition was to the benefit itself.

He wrote in the letter, “I feel the best and most fair way to decide whether or not we should receive full-time health benefits should be by answering the following questions: Do our positions as elected officials keep us from being able to obtain full-time employment, and the benefits that go along with that? I don’t think that it does.”

At the meeting, he said he respected council members’ reasoning on the opposite side of the issue, but still did not believe that the mayor and council should receive the benefits.

In researching, he said, he reached out to 37 other municipalities with population sizes similar to Westminster — within a difference of 3,000 people — and found that none offered the option of benefits to their elected officials.

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The Times also found that of the municipalities in Carroll, Westminster is the only one that considers elected officials eligible for health insurance.

During the public comment period, a city resident said he had hoped that the ordinance would not pass. But because it had, he hoped the council would continue pursuing transparency and disclose who was receiving the benefits. He said the public had the right to know, considering the cost of the benefits is much greater than the few thousand the mayor and council receive in salary.

It is not clear whether the council would have needed to take further steps to eliminate the benefits for elected officials if they had voted not to include the new language in city code.

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