CONCORD -- On the eve of the election, city leaders plan to curtail the benefits future elected officials receive.

On Sept. 23, the City Council is scheduled to approve an amendment to Concord's contract with the California Public Employees Retirement System creating a new employee group for any council members and city treasurers elected after Nov. 1. Members of this group would not receive pension benefits.

On Tuesday, the council approved a resolution of intent to approve the contract amendment.

Also at the September meeting, the council plans to create a secondary group for future elected officials who would have to serve at least 30 consecutive years in office with the city and retire at age 65 or older to be eligible for lifetime medical benefits. Council members also will consider a resolution establishing those new requirements.

City council chambers at City Hall in Concord, Calif., 2012.   (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)
City council chambers at City Hall in Concord, Calif., 2012. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff) (Bay Area News Group)

The changes would apply only to future elected officials, not existing or retired office holders. Currently, council members are treated the same way as other city employees and are eligible to receive lifetime retiree health coverage after five years in office if they are at least 50 or 52 when they retire from the city.

But there's a loophole in the proposed rules.

Anyone elected to the council who has participated in CalPERS before is exempt from the restrictions. For example, if a police officer wins two terms on the council she would be eligible for lifetime health care once she leaves office.


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Among the current council members, Dan Helix and Laura Hoffmeister -- who has health coverage through her job as assistant to the city manager in Clayton -- have waived medical benefits from Concord, according to Laura Brunson, the city's human resources director. In June, Mayor Tim Grayson appointed the duo to a committee to review the retiree health benefit.

If elected to a second term in November, Grayson and Councilman Ron Leone will qualify for lifetime health coverage when they retire from office.

Since 1998, Concord has contracted with CalPERS to provide employee health coverage. Since the Public Employees' Medical and Hospital Care Act defines elected officials as full-time employees and requires that the city provide medical benefits to retirees, Concord may limit -- but not eliminate -- coverage for retired elected officials, according to the staff.

"So with newly electeds, you must offer it, but we can set our own parameters," Scott Johnson, assistant city manager, said recently.

However, the council could opt to purchase a separate, non-CalPERS health plan for current and future council members. Doing so would free Concord from the requirement to provide lifetime retiree health coverage.

According to Johnson, the city has not explored this option for several reasons.

  • First, the council committee explicitly directed the staff to eliminate retiree medical benefits for future office holders only -- effectively exempting current council members from losing the perk.

  • Second, an assumption that it would be difficult to find a comparable health plan for elected officials at a lower premium than CalPERS offers.

  • And finally, the possibility that a current member of the council might sue the city for denying a benefit that had been promised.

    Defending such a lawsuit, Johnson said, "would be more expensive than providing health care."

    Retired City Clerk Lynnet Keihl and retired council members Helen Allen, William McManigal and Michael Pastrick receive health coverage through the city at a total annual cost to the city of about $29,000.

    Current council members receive an annual stipend of $15,600, and the elected treasurer gets $7,200. Although elected officials' eligibility for retirement benefits has received less attention than the lifetime health coverage, eliminating pensions for future elected officials would save the city up to $8,200 annually at the current employer contribution rate.

    Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.