Outgoing council’s health benefits grab nixed by mayor, new council

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published November 29, 2019

 On Nov. 26, newly elected members of the Warren City Council voted 7-0 to rescind the previous council’s action that approved health insurance benefits for elected officials after just eight years of service.

On Nov. 26, newly elected members of the Warren City Council voted 7-0 to rescind the previous council’s action that approved health insurance benefits for elected officials after just eight years of service.

Photo by Brian Louwers

WARREN — A sneaky move to secure health insurance coverage for Warren elected officials who served just eight years has been lambasted by everyone, symbolically vetoed by the mayor and now rescinded by the new City Council.

Questions continued to persist Nov. 27, the day after the newly elected members of the Warren City Council voted 7-0 to undo an action taken on Sept. 10 by their preceding peers.

The flap was exposed Nov. 17 by a story in the Macomb Daily, and the fallout incensed residents, made headlines across metro Detroit and left city officials searching for answers.

As previously reported, the “golden parachute” was approved as a quiet amendment to a City Council resolution in September to approve a seemingly routine continuation of health insurance benefits for city employees. The amendment, however, was reportedly brought to the council’s table the night of the meeting by outgoing City Councilman Robert Boccomino and was referenced by only one word without further explanation prior to the vote to approve the original resolution.

No backup material was provided in advance, and no documentation was included in the agenda packet distributed to City Council members for review. The amendment was not added to the packet of materials from the meeting available afterward online.

Not a word was mentioned publicly by anyone from the administration until the newspaper broke the story.

Afterward, Mayor Jim Fouts, members of his administration and the newly elected City Council expressed shock, outrage and intentions to undo what had been done by the mostly lame-duck council. Six of the seven members either left office under term limits after Nov. 5 or ran unsuccessfully for other offices. Four of them — Boccomino, Cecil St. Pierre, Scott Stevens and Steven Warner — were ordered off the ballot by a Macomb County Circuit Court judge under voter-approved term limits. The ruling was later upheld by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Pat Green, Warren’s newly elected mayor pro tem and now the president of the City Council, said the council wanted to act as quickly as it could to undo the effort, but that it first sought guidance from legal counsel and those overseeing the city’s health benefits trust.    

“When it first came to light, and we stated from the very beginning that we were against it, it had been 10 weeks since the action was taken,” Green said. “We wanted to make sure we checked with the health trust, to make sure there weren’t any vesting issues or anything like that, because that language was there. We checked with the health trust and outside counsel.

“He said, ‘Think of them as still standing at the HR (human resources) counter. They haven’t gotten to the health trust yet.’ We can address this administratively at the council table by simply rescinding the motion.”

Green said that because the benefits were never implemented and the resolution was rescinded by the council, he viewed the matter as a dead issue. While he admitted that it could conceivably lead to a lawsuit, he said he doubted that it would.

“I don’t think so,” Green said. “It’s been 10 weeks. As soon as we found it, we took action.”  

Fouts called the move “dead on arrival” and vowed that the benefits would never be implemented. He put forth a symbolic veto of the measure, despite the fact that according to Warren’s charter, the window for him to officially block the previous council’s action closed 72 hours after the vote.

“I’m pleased to see that the Warren City Council tonight voted to symbolically support my veto of lifetime benefits for City Council members. Despite our differences, we are united in protecting the financial stability of the city,” Fouts stated on Facebook late Nov. 26.

Boccomino had not yet responded to numerous messages left for comment on these reports by press time.