By Michael Kunzwiler
Oswego County Legislature
This letter is in response to the most recent The Valley News article, “Legislature chairman: No plans to reinstate paid insurance for legislators”, written by Ms. Carol Thompson. This was written in response to an opinion piece by Russ Johnson that was published in this paper few a days before. My colleague Barry Leemann was Ms. Thompson’s only named source. I’m surprised and bothered by some of the quotes by Mr. Leemann, assuming they are accurate. Let me explain.
Ms. Thompson reports the following, “Leemann and other legislators, have confirmed that a Democrat legislator had approached them in regard to offering once again the taxpayer-funded health-insurance plan to those newly elected.” In this story, there is no mention about any Republican legislators who were also seeking newly reinstated health insurance. I wonder why?
A short time ago, Mr. Leemann and I had a discussion about this issue. I’m pleased that we have had many constructive discussions this past year. Indeed there was one legislator in the Democratic caucus who has expressed an interest getting this benefit. But I don’t know why Mr. Leemann mentions absolutely nothing about the three or more new Republican legislators who were also pushing very hard to get taxpayer-funded health-insurance coverage. To leave that out of this article is “dead wrong.”
Let me assure the taxpayers that we in the Democratic caucus do not support restoring this benefit because phasing it out beginning August of 2007 was the right thing to do. Eventually, it will be gone for good and no taxpayer will ever have to foot this huge bill again. And although one of our members in the Democratic caucus did inquire about the possibility of bringing it back, that legislator is also very sensitive to a weakened economy, and knows that it would be the wrong thing to do and the wrong message to send. I don’t know which Republican legislator(s) “leaked” this out of their caucus, but we in the Democratic caucus are not afraid to talk about it publicly.
One more thing I would like to add. When Russ Johnson was chairman of the legislature for four years, he took many hits in and by this paper, and from a select group of citizens, most all of which occurred during his last year in office. As public officials, I realize that this comes with the territory. But I question why Mr. Leemann, through Ms. Thompson’s article, was so quick to attack Mr. Johnson’s credibility on this matter when it appears that he was right. I also realize that he is not if favor with some of the old guard Republican loyalists, but he’s just a citizen now who happens to have in-depth knowledge about how our county works and runs.
Lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, it is appropriate to note that I remain Mr. Johnson’s friend. I have a great deal of respect for him and what he did for this county as our former chairman. Mr. Leemann’s sarcastic quote, “(Russ Johnson) knows what he will be remembered for” is actually spot on and I hope all of Oswego County citizens remember as well. Under Mr. Johnson’s leadership, two major political parties worked closely together for the first time in this county’s history, we reversed a huge financial crisis, we had four years of major property tax breaks, we held down the growth of our government, millions of dollars in contracts with vendors were scrutinized like never before, political patronage was a thing of the past, and he always put the county taxpayers before his Republican party. Perhaps he should consider a run for a county-wide office.