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A Mayor Bruchey and the city benefits he doesn't take

August 15, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

After it was revealed in June that Hagerstown Mayor Robert Bruchey and four members of the city council had spent $800 in taxpayer money on a holiday party, a friend of the mayor called me to say that this was much ado about not a whole lot.

What ought to be publicized, my source said, was that Bruchey has saved the city thousands of dollars by not taking the health care insurance he is entitled to as a city employee.

Nor has the mayor enrolled in the state retirement system, which covers most city employees.

On the matter of health insurance, Susan Delauter of the city's Human Resources Department, confirmed that effective July 1 of this year, the city government pays $10,881 of the $16,302 annual cost for every employee enrolled in the health insurance plan.

Ray Foltz, the city's assistant finance director, confirmed that for the fiscal year that began July 1, the city will pay $2,465 for every employee enrolled in the state retirement system.

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Foltz said the mayor does take the city's dental insurance, which costs $244 a year. The city also pays Bruchey's worker's compensation insurance and the employer's share of Social Security.

How much is the mayor costing himself in potential retirement benefits by not participating in the state system?

Nothing, really.

A spokesperson for the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System referred me to Section 29-117 of the state code.

It says that "a disability retiree who is rehired by a participating employer may not receive creditable service or eligibility service during the period of re-employment."

Bruchey, who worked as a state correctional officer from 1981 to 1994, retired on disability because of a nerve problem in his left arm that required two operations.

As for the health insurance, Bruchey said that as a Department of Correction retiree, he pays $337.45 per month for health insurance for himself and his family.

He refuses the city coverage, he said, because "I see it as an expenditure that doesn't need to be spent."

There's no use taking the taxpayers' money, Bruchey said, adding that "it's not worth it for the taxpayers to have to pay."

Bruchey said he did the same thing in his first term and probably saved the taxpayers $40,000, which he said had never been reported.

Bruchey made a similar complaint in 1995, in the first year of his first term, when The Herald-Mail looked at the call records and expenditures of his city-issued cell phone.

In a Jan. 1, 1995, op-ed, Bruchey said then that he had come in 2 percent under his expense budget because he didn't seek reimbursement for all the lunch meetings he attended on the city's behalf or all the mileage for city-related meetings he traveled to.

"I don't claim half the allowed expenses that I am entitled to," he wrote then.

In my view, elected officials tend to take reviews of their expense accounts and budgets too personally.

It's the newspaper's obligation to look at how taxpayers' dollars are spent and ask questions when something doesn't seem quite right.

An $800 holiday party for the mayor and council and some city department heads would always raise some eyebrows, even if all involved were clones of Mother Teresa.

The decision about whether to look at those records cannot be based on how likable the public official is or how hard-working he or she seems to be.

Not long ago, I rode with Bruchey and another volunteer for a shift with Citizens on Patrol. Many public officials would be glad to ride when a member of the press was present, but his fellow volunteers tell me Bruchey does a shift on a regular basis.

That kind of service - and other things he's done, such as sitting on an East Franklin Street porch to observe "cruisers" and assorted street people screaming and carrying on while working people were trying to sleep - earns him my admiration, but not immunity from newspaper scrutiny.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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