City lawyers who are seeking healthcare benefits for their part-time positions haven’t made a persuasive case, Mayor Art Ward said.
Ward called it “highly improper” for the city attorney, Dale Clift, to threaten to resign if he doesn’t get benefits before June 1.
“Economically, it’s not feasible,” Ward said “and, ethically, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Both Clift and an assistant city lawyer, Jeff Steeg, informed the mayor last week they would resign on June 1 unless the city provided healthcare benefits for the part-time jobs. Clift earns $33,000 as city attorney while Steeg gets $27,000 as an assistant.
Ward’s position has strong backing from at least one city councilor.
“I fully support 100 percent the mayor’s position,” city Councilor Ken Cockayne said. “I don’t agree with the tactics these guys took.”
Cockayne, a freshman Republican, said the pair “are trying to strong arm the mayor and council. I feel it is entirely inappropriate.”
The city has four lawyers, two full-time and two part-time. There is a fifth slot, for a part-time attorney, that has been vacant because the mayor and council could not agree on who should fill it.
Clift and Steeg told city officials last week they could not afford to keep doing the part-time city work unless they were included in the city’s healthcare coverage because their municipal posts are taking so much time away from their private practice.
Ward said he offered to fill the fifth attorney position if that would relieve some of the pressure and allow the two lawyers to stay on. He said Clift insisted that healthcare was the key.
City Councilor Cliff Block said he’s not ready to rule out offering medical insurance to the two lawyers.
He said he wants to know what other cities and towns in the region pay their lawyers so he can see how Bristol stacks up.
“I want to see what’s what” before making a decision, Block said.
The mayor and council met in executive session last week to talk to Clift and the personnel director, Diane Ferguson, about the threatened resignation. After they talked behind closed doors, the politicians booted out Clift and Ferguson to continue discussing options in secret.
It is unclear what, if anything, the politicians decided. They said they took no votes.
Ward said that he can’t give the lawyers a pay hike – or more benefits that cost the city – while he’s also trying to get municipal unions to agree to concessions that would save money for Bristol.
The city’s Salary Committee has occasionally discussed the idea of offering more to part-time lawyers, but it has never taken action on the proposal.
Ward said that no options are off the table and that a solution has to be found quickly.
He said he hopes he can find a way to preserve continuity in the lawyers’ office.
Cockayne said there is an obvious solution: hire Edward Krawiecki, Jr, who served as city attorney from 2006 to early 2008, to fill in.
Cocakyne said that Krawiecki is the only person he can think of who has the experience to step in and be reasonably current on the issues facing the city.
“He can do the job from day one,” Cockayne said.
Taking note of the likelihood that one of the city’s two full-time lawyers, Richard Lacey, may be out for a time this summer for personal reasons, Cockayne said the city has to act.
“We have to do something to relieve some of the pressure that’s going to be put on Ann Baldwin,” the other full-time city lawyer, Cockayne said.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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