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Hagerstown mayor, council probably not eligible for some insurance, attorney says

April 30, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- An attorney has advised Hagerstown's mayor and city council that they're probably not eligible for certain insurance benefits.

In a discussion nearly held in private, elected officials heard Tuesday that they shouldn't pursue new insurance options being offered to city employees.

City Attorney Mark Boyer said the mayor and council could pick up vision insurance, which could be considered a subset of existing coverage.

However, officials should not try to pick up life, short- and long-term disability or critical illness coverage, Boyer said.

Even though elected officials would pay for their own coverage, the additional forms of insurance could be seen as a type of compensation not available to the public, Boyer said.

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Elected officials in Maryland generally are prohibited from raising the compensation of their office while they hold it.

All four types of insurance coverage that were brought up are about to be offered to the city's work force.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II wondered why dental and vision coverage wouldn't be in the same category, since the city's insurance plan also is not available to the public.

Boyer said that's because the code specifically allows that type of insurance for elected officials.

Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean said council members shouldn't be excluded.

"I think for what we make as council members, we should be covered ...," she said. "I think we should get the same benefits as any employee."

Finance Director Al Martin said after the meeting that the new benefits plans are being offered to city employees at their own cost. The open enrollment period is scheduled to start in mid-May and run into June.

The discussion about elected officials' eligibility for new insurance coverage was scheduled to be held in private, as an executive session item.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner objected. He said the discussion was of public interest and could be held openly.

He said there was "no reason the community shouldn't share in the legal advice."

Under Maryland law, government bodies must conduct business publicly. Exceptions are possible in certain cases, such as collective bargaining negotiations and to get the advice of an attorney for pending or potential litigation.

Another exception is "personnel matters," concerning "appointees, employees, or officials over whom (the public body) has jurisdiction; or any other personnel matter that affects 1 or more specific individuals ...."

The exception "is to be construed narrowly," according to the state's Open Meetings Act Manual. "It is inapplicable to discussions of issues affecting classes of public employees, as distinct from specific individuals."

Boyer said the city council could ask for a state attorney general's opinion besides his.

But the council decided not to.

"To what end?" Metzner asked.

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