Clearing the Air with Ms. LeClair

By Russ W. Johnson
Fulton, NY

I would like to personally thank The Valley News for allowing me the opportunity to have my recent viewpoint published on November 19, 2008. It was then that I alerted the public of a behind-the-scenes attempt by certain members of the county legislature to resurrect and restore health insurance benefits for themselves at our taxpayers’ expense. It has now been confirmed by Ms. LeClair.

In a ranting state of confusion, Ms. LeClair offers several dangerously inaccurate statements that must be cleared so as to not mislead the public into believing that part-time county legislators can somehow be justified in reinstating their own superior health-insurance coverage in any form on the backs of the people of this county even though “this is only in the discussion stages.”

Ironically, in Ms. LeClair’s viewpoint, she openly discusses what apparently Chairman Barry Leemann would consider a breach of confidentiality from ‘just one’ caucus discussion - “… a brainstorming session,” as Mr. Leemann put it. I’m glad that my viewpoint has now caused Ms. LeClair to realize that the public should be informed when she states, “What has been discussed, for the public’s information, is the possibility of any legislator being able to purchase health-insurance from the county at anywhere from between full cost to no less than two times what county employees pay.” Full cost? What a revelation! Full cost of what, your premium? How about looking at in a different way? You’re still creating a huge unnecessary financial risk for the hard working people of this county while we are heading into a major recession. Let’s take the cost of treating a potentially terminal disease like cancer for example. When I had the disease over ten years ago, the costs greatly exceeded $150,000 for chemotherapy, surgeries and much more. Ms. LeClair, how much do you think it would cost today? Would it be offset by your paltry offer to pay merely the cost of the premium? How ignorant do you really think the people are? The county’s health-insurance fund is self-insured and fully funded by our tax dollars. Every penny spent on a part-time legislator comes directly from the pockets’ of the taxpayer.

Ms. LeClair also tells you that the cost of health-insurance for part time legislators to the county has not changed because the majority of the legislators continue to serve. No kidding (assuming that statement was completely accurate)! It’s the long term that we need to look at. Think about this - as each member leaves office or sadly passes, that’s one less risk of a heart attack or other serious illness (God forbid) that the common citizen doesn’t have to foot the medical bills for indefinitely. Please remember that “cost to the county” really means money out of our pockets for your benefits as a part time employee. How many of you reading this could get prime health-insurance coverage for only having to attend a minimum of four meetings per month? That’s just not right.

Ms. LeClair goes on to tell you that the $800,000-plus cost to the taxpayer that I previously stated “is a stretch”, and that such an amount was “… over a 20-year period.” Oh my God! How did she come up with that one? Here are the actual numbers that were provided to me by the county’s Personnel Department and made part of the resolution to phase out health-insurance benefits for part-time legislators: Between January 1, 2005 and April 30, 2007, Oswego County taxpayers paid $634,416.27 in health-insurance claims for active legislators and their family members, and $79,393.62 for retired legislators. Moreover, between January 1, 2006 and May 18, 2007, Oswego County taxpayers further paid $125,602.42 in prescription claims for active legislators, their family members, and retired legislators. The records were unavailable before January 2006, so we couldn’t go back any further on the prescription claims or the actual costs would have been even more staggering. Ms. LeClair, please do the math. That adds up to $839,412.31 in just twenty-eight months, not twenty years. Wow!

Finally, in what sounds like an ill attempt at justifying why Ms. LeClair would like you to pay for her superior health-insurance benefits, she says this about me, “Of course he also fails to mention that his insurance continues to be paid by Fulton taxpayers.” Well, I’m sorry that Ms. LeClair feels that way about all of the good, local retirees who have served the community well as full-time public servants for decades, and thereby have secured health-insurance benefits through union/municipality contract negotiations as part of their retirement package. You’re a freshman part-time legislator, not a full-time public servant. I guess she would be surprised to learn, apparently for the first time, that as a retiree from this great city, I could get free health-insurance for me and my family from Fulton taxpayers, but I choose not to. I actually pay a significant portion of my bi-weekly paycheck from the private industry for medical benefits for me and my family. I just don’t feel that it’s appropriate to take from the taxpayers pockets when I am blessed with full-time employment elsewhere.

In closing, I want to respond directly to Ms. LeClair when she said, “I have to ask myself why Russ Johnson is so angry and willing to disparage his former colleagues.” Well, Ms. LeClair, I’m not angry. I’m a private citizen now. A private citizen who happens to know a little bit about local government and what makes certain politicians tick when it comes to taking care of themselves. After all, I fought against that for 14 years. I’m actually quite happy that I can offer my viewpoint to those who choose to read it no matter how offended you may be. As for ‘disparaging’ some of my former colleagues, I realize that the truth may hurt them, but please don’t expect the taxpayers to pay for their healing. That’s the old way of thinking and the people cannot afford it.

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