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Board member says HCC vote 'appropriate'

June 02, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

A vote by Hagerstown Community College's Board of Trustees to change employees' benefits during a retreat last month at Fountain Head Country Club was appropriate, board chairman Merle S. Elliott said.

The board unanimously agreed to raise co-payment rates and change eligibility requirements for retirement benefits at what was called a special meeting during an annual retreat May 2.

Minutes from the meeting - distributed during the board's regular monthly meeting Tuesday - detailed the changes to employee benefits. Employees were notified of the changes May 17, said Spring Ward, chair of the school's Faculty Assembly, but were not told about them in advance.

There was no record of any board discussion on specific changes to employee benefits in board minutes or agendas this school year. The issue was not included on the retreat agenda that HCC President Guy Altieri gave board members in April nor was it listed on an agenda e-mailed to The Herald-Mail on May 1, the day before the retreat.

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"It's pretty clear that we thought we were discussing it openly," Elliott said. "Maybe we weren't. And for that, I am sorry."

Maryland Assistant Attorney General Jack Schwartz, who declined to comment on specific details regarding the board's vote, said a community college's board of trustees is subject to Maryland's open meetings laws.

Schwartz said public bodies are required to provide reasonable public notice for all meetings - closed or otherwise - but said there were exceptions in cases of emergency.

Elliott said prior board discussions about changing employee benefits likely occurred during closed meetings and said that the board's decision to call a special meeting during the retreat was impromptu.

He said the vote was not held during the board's regularly scheduled meeting April 18 because the board lacked sufficient information to make a decision then. The vote, Elliott said, was not held during the board's regularly scheduled meeting in May because the college's current benefits plan was about to expire.

Human Resources Director Michael Seger said that he knew beforehand that the board planned to discuss changing the benefits package during the retreat. Seger presented surveys of health plans at other state community colleges during the meeting.

Seger and Anna Barker, the vice president of administration and finance, were the only attendees outside of the seven-member board.

Seger said his office did not formally notify employees about the proposed changes before the May 2 vote, but said there had been open forums generally discussing the rising costs of benefits earlier in the year.

Ward said that while employees might not have known about the specific changes to the plan before the vote, they were not surprised by it.

"This is part of an annual process," Ward said.

The college hosted an open forum May 18 to discuss the changes to the plan.

"No one raised any issues," Ward said.

Under the new plan, employees have to work 10 years before they can receive retirement benefits. The minimum used to be five years. Employees also pay $10, $20 or $35 for prescription drug co-payments - up from $8, $16 or $26. A mail-order prescription drug plan for certain medications now is mandatory.

The changes take effect July 1, according to board documents.

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