CR takes first step in cleaning up health insurance mess

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Taking the first concrete step to put an end to a controversial insurance program for part-time elected officials, the Chicago Ridge Village Board on Tuesday approved an amendment to the municipal code that ensures lifetime benefits will not be available to anyone not already eligible.

But the board agreed that there is still a lot of work to do.

The program offering health, vision, dental and life insurance to part-time elected officials, had been in place since the 1990s, but it became a campaign issue with the April election. The crowds of people who had come to meetings in recent months to express their displeasure had thinned out somewhat on Tuesday, with the auditorium only about half-full, but the issue remains a big concern of many.

The amendment was prepared by a committee formed at the May 5 meeting, made up of Trustees Sally Durkin and Frances Coglianese, and attorney Burt Odelson. Durkin, who had first proposed ending the insurance program going forward, said the group met three times to discuss the matter in the past two weeks.

At the same May 5 meeting, the board clarified its interpretation of the existing policy, making the lifetime insurance available for those who have completed two four-year terms.

Because of that, Durkin said that although the new amendment goes into effect with the 2017 election, most current board members, including herself, will not be eligible for the lifetime benefits.

This is because Durkin and Trustee Amanda Cardin, as well as Village Clerk George Schleyer, are midway through their first terms, and newly elected Trustees William McFarland and Coglianese are just starting their first. McFarland and Coglianese both said following the election that they would not be taking the insurance in any case.

 Only Trustee Bruce Quintos has been on the board for more than eight years, and Trustee Jack Lind was just elected to a second term and will be eligible if he completes it.

“Anyone elected in 2017 will be fully aware that they will not be entitled to the lifetime insurance,” said Durkin.

However, the trustee pointed out that while the lifetime insurance issue has been addressed, the full board must now take up other aspects of the insurance program in the coming weeks. This includes determining whether insurance should be offered to serving trustees either, and if the village is obligated to continue paying the insurance for ex-trustees. She has suggested the possibility of having them pay 100 percent of the premium if they want to keep it.

“A lot of people were unaware that the insurance offered included life, health, dental and vision,” said Durkin. “It is hard to get insurance (as a benefit) with any part-time job,” she said.

Mary Callan, one of the residents most vocally opposed to the insurance policy, said after the meeting that she appreciated the progress made but would still like to send letters to ex-trustees asking them  to give up the insurance voluntarily, if it cannot be withdrawn by the board.  

 “The process is going to continue. I think this is a great start. I think we’re attacking the problem head-on,” said Mayor Charles Tokar.