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Commission overrides mayor's veto

With a 6-3 vote during a meeting on Monday, Aug. 24, the Unicoi County Commission overruled a veto made last month by County Mayor Greg Lynch regarding the panel’s decision to lower the amount the county pays for employee family insurance coverage.
The motion to override the veto was made by Commissioner Gene Wilson and seconded by Walter Garland. Voting to overrule the veto on Monday were commissioners Jason Harris, Marie Rice, Kenneth Garland, Bridget Peters, Walter Garland and Wilson. Voting against overruling the veto were commissioners Glenn White, John Mosley and Loren Thomas.
At a June meeting, the Commission voted 5-4 to approve funding insurance costs for employees who sign up for family coverage for the 2015-2016 fiscal year at the same level as the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
According to information distributed during the June meeting, for employees opting for family coverage on the PPO plan the monthly cost is $1,393.43 with the county funding up to $1,111.82 and the employee paying $281.61 per month. For employees choosing family coverage on the high deductible plan the monthly cost is $1,030.30 – all of which is paid by the county.
Voting during the June meeting to supplement employees choosing family coverage at the same rate as the 2014-2015 were Wilson, Peters, White, Thomas and Mosley. Voting against the measure were Rice, Kenneth Garland, Walter Garland and Harris.
Following the June meeting, county employees enrolled in insurance coverage with BlueCross BlueShield for the coming fiscal year. During this enrollment, 18 employees opted for family coverage.
On July 27, the Commission opted to reverse its June decision and go with another family insurance coverage funding option, which increases the premiums paid by employees and is estimated to save the county $116,000 in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Voting in favor of this measure were Harris, Kenneth Garland, Walter Garland, Rice and Wilson. Voting against the measure were Peters, Thomas, Mosley and White.
The option approved on July 27 meant that county employees who choose family coverage on the PPO plan will pay $873.43 per month. Employees on the high deductible plan will pay $510.30 per month.
In the days following the July 27 vote, employees were notified that they would have to commit to paying the higher premiums if they stayed on the county plan or find insurance elsewhere by July 31.
Due to the short window of time employees had to find new insurance, if they chose to do so, Lynch chose to veto the Commission’s July vote. Lynch notified commissioners of his decision in a letter dated July 31.
Lynch’s letter stated: “I am exercising my power to veto the decision made to discontinue funding family health insurance for county employees.
“Upon consulting with our county attorney, I was advised that the employees currently on family health coverage would have to either drop family coverage or pay in excess of $800 per month and make that decision by Friday, July 31. This in essence did not give them adequate time to stop the market to find another health plan.”
At the beginning of Monday’s Commission meeting, Mike Harris, a county resident and employee of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department urged the panel to uphold Lynch’s veto and give employees insurance coverage at the lower rate.
“I encourage you to vote to sustain the veto,” Harris said. “This will give you an opportunity to take a step back and correct what you have done wrong. I believe your vote to not fund health coverage for employees was done with disregard for the welfare and safety of the citizens and children of Unicoi County. … You knew you were going to decimate the ranks of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, as well as lose valuable, trained employees in other areas of county government.
“Whether this was a politically motivated vendetta against Sheriff Mike Hensley and other members of the sheriff’s department because of their participation in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against the state and county in times past, I do not know for sure,” Harris continued. “But, the observations of a reasonable person would at least have to question that you’re more concerned with satisfying a third party outside this county than you are satisfying the citizens who elected you. In conclusion, I think your past actions border on a violation of your oath of office as county commissioners. You are failing to provide adequate public safety to the citizens of this county. I believe that to be a travesty and I would ask you to please vote to sustain the mayor’s veto so that you can revisit this subject.”
Walter Garland later questioned Harris: “Did you know that some of (the employees on family coverage) are making $70,000 or $80,000?” Walter Garland asked.
“Yes, I know …” Harris said.
“Do you think the taxpayers should pay for these people’s insurance?” Walter Garland asked.
“Yes, sir, I do,” Harris said. “If you have to raise my taxes to pay their insurance, then raise them. …”
“The only people that wants their taxes raised are people who are going to get something out of it,” Walter Garland responded. “… There are some people who really need this insurance, I know that.”
“They need insurance and they also need the protection of the sheriff’s department,” Harris said. “You are living in the 1960s … this is not Mayberry.”
“It’s not Washington, D.C., either,” Walter Garland responded.
Prior to voting on the veto, Kenneth Garland said he felt Lynch “had no right” to veto.
“I think the mayor is trying to pull an Obama deal, here,” Kenneth Garland said. “He’s got no right to veto any portion of the budget. I’ll read you the law, ‘The county mayor, who is not the chair of the county legislative body may veto the entire county budget, but not veto portions of it.’”
County Attorney Doug Shults said the law on the mayor’s power is “not black and white.”
“In my opinion, he had the power to veto,” Shults said. “Frankly, the budget wasn’t set when (the insurance vote) was rescinded. He has the power to veto individual acts of the Commission that may affect the budget. … It may affect the budget, but it is not the budget. … It is my opinion that the veto was valid.”
The panel then voted 6-3 to override the veto. By doing so, the Commission set the amount county employees will pay for family coverage on the county’s plan at $873.43 per month for the PPO plan and $510.30 for the high deductible plan.
• • •
Also on Monday, the Commission selected county resident Homer Mike Carmack to serve on the Unicoi County Civil Service Board.
Carmack, a retiree of the U.S. Navy currently employed at Nuclear Fuel Services, was one of three individuals nominated for the position during Monday’s meeting. Carmack was nominated by Peters who said she felt he would be “unbiased.”
Mosley nominated Mike Lewis; Walter Garland nominated Jim Lengel.
The Commission first voted on Lewis’ nomination. Voting in favor of Lewis were Thomas, Mosley and White; voting against were Walter Garland, Wilson, Peters, Kenneth Garland, Harris and Rice.
Next, the panel voted on Lengel. Voting in favor of Lengel were Kenneth Garland, Walter Garland and Jason Harris; voting against were Rice, Wilson, Peters, White, Thomas and Mosley.
Carmack was then selected on a 6-3 vote, with Peters, White, Wilson, Kenneth Garland, Harris and Rice voting in favor. Thomas, Mosley and Walter Garland voted against.
Carmack will fill the position on the board vacated by the resignation of Todd Wilcox.
• • •
In other business, the Commission:
• Passed a resolution in support of the First Judicial Drug Task Force;
• Rescinded a May vote on accepting construction and demolition (building materials) at county convenience centers;
• Passed a resolution for a capital outlay note to purchase vehicles for the sheriff’s department.