Letter to the Editor

Abuse of power

The meeting of the Chelsea Council on May 6, 2019 constituted an abhorrent and well-choreographed abuse of power by the City Council on behalf of the City Manager.  In a disgraceful suppression of democracy accomplished through manipulation of the Rules of Order, of the hundreds of active employees and retirees in attendance to speak on the proposed changes to the mechanism by which the City modifies their insurance plans, not one was allowed to say a word, as Councilors monopolized the conversation and propagated misinformation to the voting public.

Almost as disturbing as the affront to democracy was the fact that two Councilors in particular also openly stated that they personally would potentially be affected, but they had already decided to vote “yes” without hearing from any speakers.  It is my assertion that an elected official’s job is to listen to the people he or she represents, and to gather all the facts and relevant information prior to making a decision on any given issue. In my estimation, this admission by the Councilors constitutes a gross breach of their duty to their constituents.  One stated repeatedly that the Council was merely giving the City Manager “the tools he needs to negotiate” retiree coverage. In fact, the City Manager already had the ability to negotiate, and the prior City Manager routinely did so.  The statute eight Councilors voted to accept on Monday grants the current Manager, and future City Managers, the authority to make changes to any public employee insurance plan unilaterally, without any input whatsoever from employees or retirees.

It is my understanding that the initial discussion involved a change in the non-Medicare retirees’ portion from 20% to 25% of the total premium.  Although a Councilor represented that only a small group of retirees who are not eligible for Medicare would be affected, that statement is misleading.  Retirees who are under age 65 who are on non-Medicare plans will be affected right along with the retirees who are not eligible for Medicare.  This disproportionately affects public safety employees who are injured in the line of duty and who are consequently forced to retire early, not just in the form of the imminent premium increases, but potentially in the form of increased co-pays and deductibles.  In other words, the Council’s action Monday night adversely affects the injured and chronically ill the most.

I had hoped to present some real numbers, but since I was among the many who were not permitted to speak by the Council, I will do so here, using as an example the “average retiree” with a spouse on a family HMO plan.  In an actuarial study completed on the Chelsea Retirement System as of January 1, 2017, the average retirement benefit for Chelsea retirees was $27,713 per year, or $2309 per month gross.  This retiree would be subject to  10% Federal Tax withholding of $230, as well as a family insurance premium of $490 per month.  Now assume that the retiree and the spouse are on prescriptions costing $200 per month, leaving them a net income of $1,389 for shelter, food, heat, electricity, etc.  It is easy to see how devastating a proposed premium increase in excess of $120 per month could be.  Given the chance, I had also hoped to remind the Council that for many retirees, the City retirement benefit is the sole source of income, since many are not eligible for Social Security due to their long terms of public service, and those who do qualify have their benefits reduced, effectively penalized for working multiple jobs to keep their families afloat.  The retirees are not, as a Councilor seemed to imply, blind to the reality that insurance costs are rising; they are merely seeking a say in the severity of the increases because they are all too aware of the implications.

While I appreciate the Council’s stated objective of planning for the City’s future, I would submit that every person in that room who was silenced by the Council is the City of Chelsea’s future, just as the foundation for any progress that is being made today was formed by the past service of every retiree who was harmed by the Council’s unconscionable act.  Savings to the City should not be achieved without regard to the harm caused to those who can least afford it. All who supported the motion and all who assented to the cowardly suppression of employees’ and retirees’ right to speak on it should be ashamed.  However, most profoundly disappointing was to see the son of a Police union officer, who supported his family honorably by offering up his life every day for decades in service to others, orchestrating an action so harmful to public employees and retirees.  It is, at times, inconvenient to remember, and easy to forget, where we came from. There were literally several generations of people present who have dedicated their lives to public service, who were not afforded by the Council even a minimal measure of respect, or the recognition that their voices matter. It is my sincere hope that in turn the City of Chelsea’s employees and retirees speak loudly and decisively in the place City officials can’t silence them – in the voting booth.

Carolyn Russo

Chelsea Retirement Board

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