Warren council rescinds lifetime benefits measure

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Warren — The newly seated City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to rescind a controversial measure that granted outgoing members free lifetime health care benefits. 

The city's former council voted in September to change city rules, allowing themselves and their eligible dependents free health insurance and dental coverage weeks before leaving office. 

From left, Assistant secretary Jonathan Lafferty, president-mayor pro tem Patrick Green and secretary Mindy Moore at the Warren City Council meeting at the Warren Community Center in Warren on Nov. 26.

The new council voted Tuesday evening to undo the September decision without discussion.

But minutes before the vote, Eddie Kabacinski, one of the council's six new members, shared a letter that he said a resident had sent the city last week that alluded to the benefits, calling the outgoing council's move "underhanded."

"This council was just recently elected on Nov. 5," Kabacinski said in response during Tuesday's meeting. "We had no control of what the previous council had done, what votes they had taken, or any action prior to November 5th. To already attack this council is unfair."

Warren's former council body had voted unanimously in support of the benefits change. Members had been Cecil St. Pierre, Kelly Colegio, Robert Boccomino, Keith Sadowski, Scott Stevens, Steven Warner and Ronald Papandrea, the lone councilman reelected to his seat in November. 

During public comment Tuesday, one woman who declined to provide her name criticized the previous council for extending benefits, calling it "wrong." 

Doug DiCicco, 60, of Warren, at right, applauds with a few other residents after the vote to rescind a Council action taken on Sept. 10 regarding free lifetime health benefits to several outgoing council members at the Warren City Council meeting at the Warren Community Center in Warren on Nov. 26.

Patrick Green, the council's new president, said the vote was a course correction.

"It was very important for me and everyone up there, and the residents, that we make sure we're spending their tax dollars in the most prudent way possible," he said after the meeting.

Papandrea previously told The News that he'd been sorry for his vote in September and called it a "bad decision."

Former councilman Stevens has said that the benefits extension took place as his colleagues had been preparing to vote on renewing health and dental coverage for city employees on Sept. 10. That's when, he has said, then-secretary Boccomino introduced an amendment to the proposal that secured the lifetime benefits.

According to video footage of the September meeting posted on the city's website, only the brief description of the resolution listed on the agenda was read before the council members approved it without discussion.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, who was reelected in November to his fourth term, has said he was "outraged" after learning of the action which was taken by council without proper notification to mayor's office, city attorney or director of human resources.

The vote benefits change also was not communicated with Fouts' administration until after the 72-hour period for the mayor's veto. 

After learning of the vote, Fouts said his office launched an investigation and decided it would not be implementing the benefit changes.

Reached Tuesday night, the mayor said he was happy about the council's decision but stressed that the benefits would never have been extended.

"It already was never going to happen," he said. "It was dead on arrival."

Warren's part-time council members are paid about $30,000 a year and qualify for health care benefits while they are serving.

The council's health benefits vote came a few months after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that four of the council members at the time exceeded the city's term limits and couldn't appear on the August primary. As a result, Stevens, Warner, Boccomino and St. Pierre were removed from the ballot.