BRENTWOOD -- For the past 18 months, three City Council members have been receiving additional medical benefits from the city that are illegal based on state employee benefit law.
This week, the council unanimously voted to immediately halt the illegal employer contribution levels for those benefits and explore what caused the error.
Council members and city staff said they were unaware the benefits violated state law until it was called to their attention by an outside attorney hired by the city.
The employer contribution of medical insurance coverage for Erick Stonebarger, Steve Barr and Joel Bryant was changed in 2012 from nonpublic safety personnel levels to public safety worker levels during city employee benefit and salary negotiations.
The council's decision Tuesday will save the city $6,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, according to City Attorney Damien Brower.
"Although we work to resolve this issue, it shouldn't have occurred in the first place," Brower said at Tuesday night's meeting.
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor and Councilman Gene Clare did not receive the additional benefit contributions because of the type of coverage they selected. The council also formed an ad hoc subcommittee to examine how this situation happened and how to prevent it from occurring again.
"I thought that it was important to stop doing what the government code section says we aren't supposed to do. I have additional concerns about how we got here," Stonebarger said. "It is really frustrating to get here and have it affect this position because there is so much trust that goes along with it."
As a member of the subcommittee, Stonebarger said he would like to revisit all council benefits and find an alternate type of compensation such as a flat stipend without medical or retirement benefits.
"I don't think that as a part-time employee of the city, we should be entitled to those same benefits that our full-time employees get," he said.
Barr said the council makes its decisions based on legal opinions. He recalled that the negotiations in 2012 were complicated and said the council approved the medical contribution level change without knowing that it violated state law.
"Our responsibility to the public is how do we give them that trust level that we are doing the right thing," Barr said.
The resolution and staff report to revise the medical insurance coverage for council members were reviewed by Brower and city staff members without knowledge of government code section 53208.5, according to city officials. Brower noted this law is known mostly by attorneys who are experienced in California employee benefit laws.
"A more thorough review should have been done in 2012," he said.
The council agreed that future major discussions of this situation would be held in public for transparency. The city also wants to determine whether the extra compensation needs to be repaid.
"It is something that we can take steps to remedy in the future," Bryant said.
Reach Paula King at 925-779-7174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.