December 27, 2007

O'Connor Saves Benefit - And Seat

As we alluded to in Monday's post, it appears Niagara County Legislator Sean O'Connor has found a loophole in a resolution that would have required any legislator with at least 20 years in office to pay 50% of his health insurance, while still retaining his seat in the Leg.

Unfortunately for both sides of the aisle, this issue has become quite a political hot potato. The Dems are contending that the resolution was designed to force O'Connor out of office, while the Reps state that the resolution will affect no less then eight members of their own caucus should they reach 20 years of service.

What's somewhat disconcerting is the amount of time and effort O'Connor has put into preserving his benefits. Over the past few years that we have followed the Leg, we've never seen any substantive activity from O'Connor. Rarely a resolution, or a proclamation or even some words on the floor of the Leg. Now, from what we have learned, he sent out press releases to GNN, the Buffalo News, as well as channels 2, 4 & 7 protesting his loss of benefits.

What is somewhat less clear is O'Connor's intent. Does he believe that by having this issue broadcast on the news that he will get public sympathy for his cause? Does he think that someone will start a fund to help him get through these difficult times, like when someone is struck with an illness so friends and family put together a fundraiser to help out?

Reading Tom Prohaska's Buffalo News story this morning, O'Connor just may get some contributions. Prohaska goes on about O'Connor finding a loophole and how he'll save $6,000 a year. But nowhere, and this is a fascinating omission, does Prohaska state that the health insurance loophole that O'Connor has found will cost the taxpayers $12,000 this year. Yes, he states that it will cost $12,000 a year, but never reinforces the fact we will foot that bill. Add another 15% or so per year for the rest of O'Connor's life to come up with the total cost.

That being said, this is not an indictment of Sean O'Connor. If I were in his position, I would be doing the same thing. Having served for 22 years, most of those years with the promise of lifetime benefits, O'Connor should fight for them. This is an indictment of the benefit itself. Lifetime health insurance is a benefit that should not be offered to any elected official. I wonder how many other elected or appointed officials across Niagara County enjoy the same benefit.

The Reps also have handled this issue poorly. While there are some who may legitimately be motivated by the fact that elimination of lifetime health will save the taxpayers millions of dollars, others may be motivated by politics.

Chairman-elect Bill Ross, when asked by WGRZ's Kristin Donnelly "Was this resolution politically motivated to get him out of office, or was it to save money?", responded with "I think as I said, it's a double-edged sword, it had a little of both." That's a pretty stunning admission by Ross.

Normally when we hear that an action is politically motivated, we have a tendency to automatically condemn it. But the the $64,000 question is this: Is politically motivated action acceptable when it leads to taxpayers saving money? Maybe more relevant, does it take political motivation to save the taxpayers money?

Personally, I don't care what it takes to reduce my taxes. Close Mt. View, cut services, reduce personnel, privatize any county service that can be privatized, whatever can be done. And if one part-time Legislator losing a $500,000 benefit keeps a half a million in the pockets of the taxpayers, so be it - politically motivated or not.


GOP Shill said...

Here's what I said in the other post on this topic earlier today:

This whole thing of health insurance for part-time politicans is an outrage and both Dems and Reps should be ashamed. But is was a GOP Legislator, I think Aronow, who began the process of elimanting it.

As for politics....what, there's politics in county government. I'm shocked, absolutely shocked.

Anyone remember when the Dems suspened the rules when they were in the Majority on the last day to screw the incoming crew. You know what, they had the right to do it.

So, sick and tired, you want to be a dem shill go ahead. If Pirate's Code is shilling for the GOP (and as a regular reader of this board, I don't think he is though others clearly are) have at it.

Let's just not all act like a bunch of sanctimonious a--holes when we all know how the game is played.

And if friggin Sean O'Connor were so concerned about serving the public, he'd show up to a meeting once in a while and do his job. His ONLY purpose in the Leg is collect his benny's while he and Doreen run their business.

Sean's got 20-plus years in, name one thing he's done.

Pete M said...

O'Connor went into the legislature with the benefit, he should leave with the benefit. If they want to eliminate the benefit for new legislators like they did in 2004, that's fine. But to strip a benefit after serving 20 years is wrong.

fed up in da falls said...

Let's not acquaint Sean "I never show up and never do anything" O'Connor with a county worker who busts his or her hump for a decent wage but with the promise of good benefits.

The Leg added this perk for themselves in the mid 1990's, well after Sean had joined that august body. So, he never had an expectation of lifetime health benefits when he first took office.

And let's not forget he couldn't have left with the benefit.

He is a fat pig at the taxpayer trough.

sick & tired said...

This benefit has been around for a very long time, well before the 90s. Its only in its current form that has existed from the 90s. I believe that the current for was put in to clarify 2 issues. Whether a break in service would count toward the 20 years (it now does) and whether one had to take a retirement or just a separation in service (all time counts, even with a break).

FYI, the union benefits usually require that the employee also retire, that is, take their state pensions.

The issue is also opening up s scism between the old and new guards. Word is that the old guard (Ross, Burmaster, Needler, et al) felt that Updegrove's move against Sean and his ilk showed a departure from honor in politics, the idea that one shouldn't poke the other side too hard lest they poke back when they regain power. But the new guard, led by Chairman Wojtasek, has a "take no prisoners" attitude which requires the smashing of the opposition at every turn.

Word is that Kimble's resolution resolution had allot os support from the old guard but that Henry put his foot down in caucus and squashed it.

yankee clipper said...

S&T, you may be on to something.

I for have had enough of old guard, both R & D, running this county into the ground. It's time to put them out to pasture and bring in fresh blood.

Mal Needler leaving county government is a good thing...and if O'Connor follows suit even better. Throw in (or should I say throw out) Burmaster, Virtuoso and Kimble and we can say a new day is dawning.

Let the next generation who have a real stake in our county take over.

sick & tired said...

Ahh yes, the out with the old in with the new.

Arronow, the angry taxpayer who quickly "saw the public sector light" and resigned to become a public employee probably for life ( I wonder if he's earning lifetime healthcare credits?), did indeed champion the idea of eliminating health insurance for electeds and part-timers.

When not practicing civil disobedience as a smoking scofflaw, Glenn also pushed hard, he even threatened a board of inquiry, against the dysfunctional Dems inability to settle the workers comp buyout from the various municipalities that pulled out of the county's pool.

Well, here we are 4 years later, only NT has settled as far as I can remember (and word is that NT got a sweat heart deal), County Attorney Joerg has been pulling in an extra $18gs a year to supposedly settle or sue these cases (although I hear that their rolling this lulu over into his regular salary) , Glenn is sucking on the political teat of Senator Maziarz and there seem to be no more angry taxpayers on the majority's side. Just a bunch of sheep following the shepherd's lead.

Here's to the new guard, same as the old guard.

Larry Castellani said...

What’s at issue here is any compensation or advantage of service that contributes to or facilitates the “professionalization” of government service. What we want, I would think, are ‘servants’ who want to serve the greater good of the community and believe in democracy. We should be concerned with creating conditions of service that promote the democratization of government and politics not the professionalization or even “class infestation” of democracy. We should discourage conditions that encourage service for secondary reasons such as health insurance or salary or any other imaginable personal or social class (big business) benefits. This is a matter more and greater than just saving money for the county. Emphasizing only fiscal concerns plays into the all too prevalent notion that politics is about the pragmatics of economy, jobs, taxes, , in short, business, therefore social class, interests, etc. …. Once we get beyond the cynical, self-serving gossip and hyperbole, we ought to be discussing the conditions of honorable “politics” and democratic integrity. If procedural governmental politics is a “game” that the insiders know how to “play,” then democracy, government and politics are hopelessly corrupted. Then government becomes institutionalized violence. Democracy, government and politics have to be made “openly public,” a matter of public education from an early age and a matter of the values that inspire the “next generation who have a stake in our county” to play an everyday part in social self-determination. The “new guard” will be merely a younger “old guard” if how the game is played is not changed, radically and in principal. … I don’t believe that the powers that operate procedurally within the confines of local or national institutions can be dealt with procedurally through the institutions without radical social and educational change. But that’s another story.

Cracker Jack said...

I don't always agree with the local newspapers, but on this issue, they hit it right on the head. In a recent editorial, they said that part-time politicans should not be receiving any health care benefits period! I could not agree more.
If the County Legislature really wants to do the right thing for the hardworking taxpayers of Niagara County, they should vote immediately to eliminate ALL health care benefits for themselves.
I understand that Independent Health just raised their premiums over 20 percent for this year alone. I am not sure what plan the County uses, but I bet the costs are going up accordingly.
It's time to stop such wasteful spending in county government.

William Wallace said...

I like your thinking Cracker Jack. Part time employees is a great place to start cutting some of the fat...we need the taxpayers to start demanding more cuts like this, resulting in lower budgets, then lowering of taxes, and a new chance on life for the area.

sick & tired said...

Trimming the fat? How about that PIO job they've done without for so long and now have manufactured a need? Or how about the hefty pay raises they are giving the the County Attorneys staff including a 25% pay raise to the County Attorney?

Preparation of minutes and resolutions and compilation into yearly volumes for ready availability to the public is supposed to be what the Leg Clerk does (and its not been done in years, I hear). Now that we're going to have a PIO that is taking over some of those duties, perhaps one of the 2 assistant legislative clerks can be let go? Certainly Greg Lewis can pick up the slack here?

FYI, Niagara County self-insures most of it employee health benefits. In a good year, they're expected top increase anywhere from 12 to 20% no matter what. Also FYI, once a retiree/lifetime health care recipient become eligible for medicare, medicare Parts A & B becomes the primary insurance and the cost of retirees health care goes down tremendously. So the costs that someone else calculated at $500gs is incorrect.

Heck, they cut all those low paying Mt. View jobs, putting many marginally paid people on unemployment, so perhaps the next thing to do is to cut the retiree/separation of service health care benefits for ALL non-mandated, that is, non-contractual, former County employees. Save a bundle there.

Cut, cut, cut.

And lets not stop there. Larry advocates a more romantic version of public service, which is worth considering, at least on the very local level. Eliminate all pay for local elected officials. heck, if school boards and rural firefighters can donate their time, so can would be crusaders for the public good.

Cut the pay for all legislators to nothing and you won't have to worry about term limits any longer. Chances are, these career politicians will jump ship faster than you could read the GNN Sunday edition.

the shadow said...

GOP shill sounds like Glenn " I talk out of both sides of my ass" Arronow. Or is that Pirate's Code? It doesn't matter. Because anyone that reads this knows the guys that post on this site are mostly insiders with a GOP agenda.

Larry Castellani said...

I find it disturbing that judging the virtues of paying legislators’ healthcare on a principled basis is seen as “romanticism” and that someone who was motivated on the basis I suggest would have to be a “crusader.” Of course I’m happy that my offering is considered at all and my opinions tolerated on this oh so very nuts and bolts pragmatic blog. Yet I think we see a principled position, that tries to make a political decision on the basis of a particular understanding of democracy, as inevitably a “romantic” notion requiring “crusaders” to fulfill it because we are wholly conditioned if not blinded by ad hoc decision-making conditioned by the exigencies of economic and business interests. Budget management does not civil discourse make. …..Moreover I don’t know why we can’t see that when principles, criteria or theory are not taken seriously, then we find it normal and acceptable that, for example, we tolerate a Republican party that stands for small government but continues to expand bureaucracy and centralized executive control at an unprecedented rate; a Republican party that stands for less spending and continues to borrow and spend at a virtually incalculable rate, etc. If we don’t reconstitute what democracy is in theory, then politics degenerates into money management, moral bickering and catering to special interests. …. By analogy, with respect to principled decision-making, something similar is happening at NCCC. Each of our past 3 presidents claimed first and foremost to be academic leaders as do the academic deans. Yet not one of them has had the remotest idea what academic leadership is. They are budget directors, money managers and administrative hitmen and haven’t dealt with one substantive educational issue in my 18 years there. They have totally lost the plot. They in principle don’t know what it means to be an educational leader. Not a clue. So if they save a few pennies they consider themselves a success. If it means cutting full time faculty all they better. The educational cart is way in front of the educational horse as is the political cart in local government. ….. If a political position is a full time position, then it does require a salary in order to do the job. But when government is seen as best being conceived on a business model, then we’ve lost touch with what government is about. …. If a PIO is there to inform if not involve the public in as opposed to obstructing access to the legislative process, then we should have one. So the principle is acting such as always to preserve a constitutive, participatory democracy as opposed to a procedural or regulative democracy that instrumentalizes government in the interests of a power elite.

sick & tired said...

Larry, while i much appreciate your polemics on the subject, at this point you arguments can fairly, at least in part, be termed "romantic." A term I chose as it connotes, to me anyway, a yearning for an ideal that never was. That is, public office has always been a place for the ambitious to advance their personal well-being and standing, often at the cost of the public good or principled decision-making.

Even the Founding fathers were at base purveyors of self-interest (anti-tax fever and elevation of the construct of "property" to a God granted "inalienable right." ) who were particularly well studied in noble classical liberal political philosophy as rationalization for their cause. Although the FFs do get great credit for rallying around Great Principles, the fact is that they embraced these principles because they served their needs at the time. If King George hadn't remained so greedy, chances are that we'd be driving on the left side of the road and declaring the anniversary of Lady Diana's death a national holiday by now.

But the funny thing is, I actually agree with you. To survive, we really do need to embrace the fundamentals of representative democracy and insist that the People cast off their apathy and pay attention to what's happening all around them every day.

Only then will those who come into public service as "crusaders" be compelled to remain committed to the causes they championed to get elected. But instead what we see is a steady stream of promising newcomers morph into cogs in the old guard machine. I hate to keep picking on him because the poor guy really did need a decent paying job, but Glenn Arronow is exhibit 1 in this phenomenon. But of course, his heart must have been broken when his political soul-mate Rick Updegrove let his ambition to become an establishment mouth-piece steer him into becoming an unprincipled partisan hittman.

Larry Castellani said...

Sick and tired...

I don’t mean to beat a dead horse or quibble over the right concept here but maybe something more is at stake in our disagreement. In the first place I hear a tacit agreement about the considerably sad state of affairs with respect to democratic participation in NC and really the country also. But given that no ideal ever existed as such, I wouldn’t want to use the history of the compromise and corruption of democratic practice as a rationalization or excuse to limit what’s possible today. Also I wouldn’t want Jefferson’s self-interest and his other more blatant shortcomings to define what we should aim for as if it defines the very nature of democracy. In short the facts of the matter of democracy don’t define its possibilities or imperatives. How we conduct the democratic process at least partly if not essentially determines what can be achieved. But just as the moral whining and wailing about the ethical or intellectual shortcomings of the likes of Spitzer, for example, doesn’t really further any civic discourse that ultimately matters, moralizing about the unconscious masses doesn’t help either. I’m in no way saying you are doing that at all. I’m saying that’s the modus operandi of the kind of discourse we’ve fallen into. Character assassination politics, expectations of ‘voluntarism’ on the part of people who don’t know what they’d be politically volunteering to participate in. When the discourse starts dealing with what’s at issue from the standpoint of who it’s at issue for, then the people will get active. So I’m not an Idealist but a materialist. But the material issues have to be dealt with in ways beyond how the business community sees them. By the way “ideas” have material force. But when mythologies about what’s possible for democracy determine whether we support democratic education and whether we continue to reflect on how we conduct ourselves in civil discourse, then the discourse degenerates into the whining, wingeing and personal denigration we see on all too many blog spots. Nevertheless I too think there is an “enemy” among us. But it takes the form of misguided individuals who are misdirected to identify with and defend interests, ideas and political forms (esp. “parties”) that don’t serve the good of our community let alone the country. So, in short, rather than just talking to ourselves we have to “talk” in such a way, that we open up the political sphere as such and not just the sphere of established interests, ideas and old political habits. So are we really surprised let alone moved to meaningful action by the fact of Spitzer’s ethical failings and by doubts as to whether Dyster will “save Niagara Falls?” Why is it that the changing of the guard is more often like the march of the zombies in the night of the living dead? To “fall back” on “principles” is not to return to some imagined romanticized past, but to guides one’s judgment by what we stand for not by the lowest common denominator of those who would merely exploit democracy rather than treat it as a constitutive cultural, educational and communal form. So maybe you're not "sick and tired" enough.

the shadow said...

William Wallace if you feel that way I am sure that you loved what the GOP majority did with all the raises for the patronage jobs!

Larry C- You have to make your points a little quicker. I like some of your stuff but it is a drag reading the rest of the editorial.

Anonymous said...

Shadow. Better watch your step with Lawrence. He doesn’t play well with others. Read the Dyster piece. He got his panties in bunch. By the way Shadow, Lawrence is incapable of getting to the point. He likes the sound of his own voice