On Tuesday night, the Mission Viejo City Council voted, 4-1, to strip two council members of eligibility for lifetime medical benefits, ending a drawn-out battle over the issue.
The council voted to get rid of the generous benefit in 2007, but Councilman Frank Ury and Mayor Trish Kelley would have been eligible for the benefits after serving three terms because they were grandfathered in under the previous policy.
Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht raised the issue of her colleagues’ eligibility in June, saying it was an excessive benefit in such difficult budget times. And the battle was back on.
Details of the fight have been confusing to say the least. There have been debates about whether so-called irrevocable releases of lifetime medical benefits are legally binding, whether a councilwoman who isn’t even eligible for the benefit might sue the city, and accusations of political trickery.
“This whole thing is so convoluted. … It’s called a minefield,” Councilman Dave Leckness said. “No matter where you fall in this thing, you’re not going to make people happy here.”
The vote comes off the heels of Ury and Kelley signing irrevocable releases of lifetime medical benefits, which they and the city attorney say are legally binding documents.
Schlicht said the city attorney was wrong and that the two council members could rescind the documents at any time.
“It’s not a contract — it’s a gift. There’s nothing enforceable about it. You can tear it up,” Schlicht said.
Ury, who cast the lone vote to retain his and Kelley’s eligibility, characterized Schlicht’s suspicion of the documents as “part of the irrelevance of your overall comments.”
Ury also said he could only support striking the benefits policy if former councilwoman Gail Reavis — who would have been eligible had she been elected for a third term — also signed documents releasing the city from any “further claim to the lifetime medical benefit both as a fully vested interest and as a partially vested one.”
To back his reasoning, Ury presented a slide show consisting of 2008 emails between Reavis and the city attorney. In the emails, Reavis queries the city attorney about the laws regarding senior abuse and having a vested interest in the benefits. Ury said he fears that Reavis might sue the city out of having a “partially vested interest.”
Schlicht didn’t buy that argument.
“You’re all wanting the benefits, and you’re blaming Gail so you can take them,” Schlicht said.
Kelley said that although Schlicht’s motion was a “political tool,” she voted for striking the benefit policy because “anything other than this is going to continue to be used against me.”