Mayor Irked Over Colleagues’ Health Insurance Stance

SALISBURY — An attempt by members of the Salisbury City Council to amend the city’s charter drew harsh criticism from Mayor Jim Ireton this week.

“While we should be celebrating the terms of [Louise] Smith and [Gary] Comegys as they come to an end, we find that their true colors shine through with this charter amendment based on their dislike of fellow council members,” he said.

The council will meet on Friday to discuss possible changes to the city’s charter in an effort to pass an ordinance on elected officials’ health care benefits that Ireton recently vetoed. As it stands now, Ireton has effectively stopped the bill from entering law; however, vetoes cannot impact the city charter.

Because the council failed to override the veto by a four-fifths super majority vote this week, a charter amendment will be the only way to circumvent Ireton’s decision.

“Anywhere else a 3-3 tie among elected officials, and a mayoral veto would mean the legislation dies, but not here,” said Ireton.

The ordinance in question is one that would call for any elected official that wished to participate in the city’s health care program to pay the full cost for themselves as well as any family members they might share the plan with. There is a clause in the ordinance which would allow officials currently utilizing city health care to finish their term with the conditions they already have in place.

However, once their term is up, they would fall under the jurisdiction of the new bill, assuming the charter is amended later this week. Because neither Smith nor Comegys will be seeking reelection after this term, they would not be affected

“I am embarrassed for them both, and I will be embarrassed for Salisbury on Friday when they ram this through,” he said. “I will introduce legislation to undo this once they are out of office.”

Ireton went on to state that he rarely exercised his right to veto legislation, commenting that he has only vetoed three bills in two years.

The health care ordinance had difficulty being passed even prior to Ireton’s veto, barely being approved amongst the council, with only two members, Smith and Eugenie Shields, voting in favor at the bill’s second reading with the other three members either absent or abstaining.

“Elected office should not be only for those who have the financial means to make service possible,” said Ireton, referring to the fact that it would cost an official more than their salary to pay for full health care benefits.

Ireton argued that making officials pay the full cost for health care would only bring in a minimal amount of revenue.

“The cost of elected officials [insurance] makes a small fraction of the total city budget,” he claimed. “We must attract the best and brightest to hold office in our city.”