City Council tries to exclude mayor and legal director from meeting

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115394377331903.jpg’, ”, ‘Larry Morrissey’);

Open Meetings Act’s notification standard not met

In an extraordinary meeting, health insurance costs for Rockford police officers and firefighters were the topic of a more than two-hour closed-door meeting Saturday, July 22 at Cliffbreakers. The City Council’s Democratic and Republican caucuses met with union officials to discuss and compare insurance options, and they attempted to exclude the mayor and the chief city attorney who is negotiating with the union from the meeting.

“That’s a time when the mayor needs to be there. When you’re talking about collective bargaining, I don’t think there’s such a thing as an informal meeting,” Morrissey said.

It was a gathering to which Legal Director Patrick Hayes wasn’t invited, according to Police Benevolent Protective Association Unit 6 Treasurer Terry Peters. City Attorney Ron Schultz stood in his place. According to Peters, both Council members and union officials were displeased with Hayes’ advice about how to conduct the meeting.

“They didn’t want (Hayes) here. That’s got to say something,” Peters said. Peters alleged the Council members were concerned whether Hayes could give objective legal advice or would just toe the administration line. Hayes said he informed the aldermen that the closed meeting would need to be recorded, and assigned City Attorney Ron Schultz to the task.

Hayes did not return follow-up calls.

Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) said the council was “disappointed” with the Legal Department’s advice. According to Holt, caucus members had been assured holding a closed meeting without the mayor was permissible. Holt said Hayes gave him that assurance.

Schultz said a gathering of aldermen with Morrissey constitutes a Council meeting. If Morrissey had been unable to attend, a mayor pro tem could have been selected, he said. Schultz also acknowledged aldermen may have run afoul of the Open Meetings Act, since an agenda wasn’t posted.

Illinois Press Association Director of Government Beth Bennett said: “Somebody was trying to find a clever, cute way to get around the Open Meetings Act. You have a blatant violation; you can’t do that.” She added government bodies can only go into closed or executive session to discuss an individual employee, not a group of employees; and that was the real violation, rather than issues involving agenda or “date of call” issues. Bennett also noted the city could only be penalized if someone sued them.

Ald. Doug Mark (R-3), Republican caucus chairman, said the meeting was posted on the City Council’s weekly “date of call” list by Thursday—more than 48 hours prior to the meeting. City Clerk Diane Reed e-mailed the “date of call” list at 7:30 a.m. July 19 to the media and other interested parties.

Mark said “nobody questioned (Morrissey’s) ability to be there.” But he said Hayes and the Legal Department never let on holding a meeting without him would be a problem. According to Mark, Morrissey informed them he was required to lead the meeting when he arrived. He said neither Hayes nor the Legal Department has offered an explanation regarding the allegedly faulty advice.

Despite the drama before the meeting, Morrissey called it a “very positive (and) very productive one.” He said it was a good update on wage and insurance concerns. Mark concurred: “I think we had a good, positive discussion about all those issues.”

Peters said the city wants to revamp the insurance plan to realize $14 million in savings. The union’s proposal would generate $6 to $8 million in savings, Peters said. He said the union is trying to get the city to consider phasing in the savings.

The city proposed health insurance plan would cost Peters 500 percent more, he said. While Peters currently pays $35 per pay period, the city proposal would take $135 out of his check each pay period.

The city offers a three-tier insurance program. While the top two tiers are Participating Provider Options (PPOs), the third tier is a health savings plan. City PPO plan A—providing single coverage—would have a $1,100 annual premium in 2007, increasing to $1,584 by 2009, according to a letter from Morrissey to PBPA members.

City PPO Plan B would increase from $702 to $850 annually between 2007 and 2009. Single Plus One Plan A premiums would go from $2,060 in 2007 to $2,965 in 2009, while Single Plus One Plan B premiums would go from $1,053 to $1,274.

Family Plan A premiums would increase from $3,088 in 2007 to $4,447 in 2009, while Family Plan B premiums would increase from $1,404 to $1,699 in 2009.

From the July 16-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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