Waverly’s city council and city staff at odds about benefits and communication

March 17, 2008

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

Near the end of Waverly’s city council meeting Tuesday, an argument ensued that was somewhat coded at times, but revealed some unhappiness and rumors about changes that have been occurring and some that may soon occur.

The hottest issue was proposed changes in the city’s insurance benefits, along with a perceived lack of communication within the council, as well as amongst the council, city commissions, and city staff.

A point of contention appeared to be an insurance issue with the likelihood that a $500 per month allotment for city employees who opt out of the city’s insurance plan will be taken away at the next closed council meeting.

Council Member Pam Henry-Neaton was concerned that the council is making too many changes in city policies and committee structures without seeking input from the people who will be affected by those changes.

Mayor Ken Hausladen said that the insurance benefits conversation should not be taking place at an open meeting because the topic is still in negotiations. He said including city staff, who will be affected by the changes, in the discussion, is not required.

Henry-Neaton said that out of respect for those who work for the city, they should be included in the discussion.

Hausladen repeatedly stated that this topic is off the table until the scheduled personnel meeting, to which Henry-Neaton disagreed and said there was no reason to have a closed meeting about it.

Meanwhile, Maintenance Supervisor John Rassat asked if he could ask a question, to which Hausladen said, “No.” Henry-Neaton asked Rassat to go ahead and ask his question.

Rassat said, “Thank you.” and proceeded to say that there are bad rumors going around and asked the council what happened at the last meeting about personnel and about losing benefits.

Hausladen said, “What happened at that meeting, is for the first time in about 10 years – it hasn’t been taken away from you yet, there’s a good chance that it might be, but it hasn’t happened yet, OK, – for the first time in 10 years the people around the table looked at the checks that are coming through, and realized that some people are picking up about $500 per month because they have chosen to not take the city’s insurance.”

Rassat replied, “So are the other two that are involved in the other side of it.”

Hausladen replied, “That’s fine if they choose to take the insurance from the city. It’s a benefit offered by the city. This conversation right now is in negotiations and it should be in a closed meeting.”

Rassat said, “This should be exposed to cut the slack that is coming back right now, and I’ll tell you what, it’s not good. After this meeting, I’d like to take the council out to the shop and I’d like to show the council a couple of things. I think we need some input in this. I tell you what, I don’t want to lose one of the guys and if that happens because of this, the public has a right to know.”

Hausladen replied, “This conversation, as far as I’m concerned is closed. If somebody else wants to continue, do so.”

“I need to know what to tell my people,” Rassat said.

Council Member Ken Antil replied, “Well, nothing’s been decided.”

Rassat replied, “This puts me in one hell of a spot. I’d like to thank you for that.”

Because a closed meeting only consists of the mayor and council, Rassat asked when does personnel come into the picture.

Hausladen replied, “If you would like to submit a letter, or someone else, I don’t have a problem with that.”

Rassat asked, “In other words, the council is going to make a decision on that topic and the employees have nothing to say about it?”

“That would be correct,” Hausladen replied.

Council Member Gary Olson said, “John, I get this done to me . . . with my insurance benefits. I get a letter in the mail saying that next year I will be paying an additional on my premium, every year. I get an increase every year.”

Rassat replied, “So do we. Here’s the point. We haven’t changed this $500 allotment for the city for 10 years. No one has ever asked to up it. Actually the two people who are actually on the cafeteria plan are costing the city more than the two who aren’t on it.”

Rassat continued, “And there’s no communication on it and these people need to know what the heck is going on because,” Hausladen cut Rassat off and said, “This is not the forum for this conversation.”

Henry-Neaton said, “I don’t think the issue is really the money. The issue is letting them know.”

Hausladen again said, “This conversation – I’ve said it before – this conversation is over, for now. It belongs in a personnel meeting.”

“I don’t want to be a part of this anymore,” Henry-Neaton said.

“That’s your option,” Hausladen said.

“It’ll be my option,” Henry-Neaton replied. “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of finding out later what’s going on and people aren’t getting treated fair . . . We lack communication,” she added.

Hausladen asked Henry-Neaton how she’d like to see things happen, not that he would necessarily take that direction, to which she replied, “Well I know that, I’m just saying that these guys need to be included. Look at what they have done for us.”

Hausladen cut Henry-Neaton off and said he was ready to move to the next item on the agenda.

The closed personnel meeting about the insurance benefit in question will take place Friday, March 28.

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