Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the chairman of the Charter Review Commission, Gabe Sterling.
Sandy Springs will allow the city council and the mayor to join the city’s health benefits plan as long as they pay 100 percent of the premiums with no cost to the city.
The proposal by Councilmember Chris Burnett was approved unanimously during an Aug. 3 meeting. It followed the rejection of a proposal by Councilmember Andy Bauman to have staff get more detailed information on providing those benefits to the elected officials.
Bauman had brought up a discussion around compensation benefits for elected officials at the July 20 council work session, saying it may remove a barrier to public office for some residents. He cited the need for diversity in elected officials.
Before council debated the issue on Aug. 3, city residents who included members of the Charter Review Commission and a mayoral candidate, spoke in support of the council and mayor being eligible for health benefits.
Tricia Gephardt, who served on the Charter Review Commission, said she was surprised the issue raised so much controversy.
“If one of our elected officials needs to participate in the benefits program offered, that would be a good thing for them and I would want them to be happy, healthy and able to make good decisions for our community,” she said.
Tochie Blad, the vice chair of the Charter Review Commission, said that group only proposed increasing pay for the mayor and council positions. She said Chairman Gabe Sterling told them it wasn’t within the scope of the commission to propose benefits. In
“Many people are feeling insecure about their health insurance. I support providing an opportunity for health benefits to be offered. This is a reasonable addition to the retirement plan already offered and participated by council,” she said.
Dontaye Carter, who announced his candidacy for mayor in the Nov. 2 municipal election, said he came to the meeting to ensure voices are brought to the table.
“I’ll give you all credit. What you do good, you do a great job. But the things that you’re getting wrong, you’re getting really wrong. And one of those things is this pay and benefits,” he said.
Carter said he listened to the Charter Review Commission meetings at which several council members spoke.
“I found it offensive when I heard individuals say that they were the conscience of the city, knowing that those views don’t reflect me, they don’t reflect my family, and they don’t reflect the majority of the people that live in my neighborhood,” he said.
Mary Baron told council she spoke to the Charter Review Commission in support of raising council salaries.
“I didn’t express that support because I think people should get rich off of serving on council or make it their only source of income, but rather because I know that inadequate compensation is a barrier for many people to serve,” she said.
If the city doesn’t pay people for their time as elected officials, those who don’t have the luxury of donating their time for free won’t be able to serve, Baron said.
When Bauman made his motion after public comment, he said it was a more formal direction for staff to provide more details. The vote would not grant benefits.
His motion failed when no council member offered to second it. A motion to table the agenda item so a more detailed set of benefit options, including providing health benefits or having elected officials pay the costs, also died for lack of a second.
Burnett made his motion to give the council and the mayor the option starting in January 2022 to purchase health insurance coverage through the city’s plan. If they chose to participate, they would be required to pay 100 percent of the premium.
Burnett said Bauman’s proposal would create inequality because some members may take advantage of the paid health insurance and others might not.
“I think it’s important for us to have a level playing field in terms of benefits,” Burnett said.
Councilmember Tibby DeJulio, who seconded Burnett’s motion, said he opposed putting the cost of providing those benefits estimated between $94,000 and $160,000 on the taxpayers.
“I think anything that moves the needle forward on these issues is a good thing. I’m not really sure how beneficial it will be, but if it’s beneficial to anybody that it is worth the effort. Even one,” Bauman said.
He said the bigger point is that compensation is one part of a larger discussion on improving citizen participation.
“One of the things we keep talking about is that somehow this is preventing people from running. And that’s if that’s true, that’s disappointing,” Council member John Paulson said. He said he supported Burnett’s idea.