Was the first salvo in the campaign for city comptroller loosed from the floor of the City Council chambers last night?
City Council Vice President Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd, who Monday night formally announced her candidacy for the position, said it absolutely had not.
Councilman Joseph T. '"Jody" Landers, D-3rd, who has all but announced his candidacy for comptroller, said that if it had been, it was in poor taste.
What happened was that Landers introduced a resolution during last night's council meeting asking for the city Board of Estimates to look into the feasibility of maintaining the status quo in health benefits for those city employees called up from military reserve to active duty.
Landers asked that the council vote immediately on the measure.
Landers said that current civil service policy allows employees called to active duty to use up their paid leave and still continue receiving health benefits -- the cost of which is split between the city and its employees.
But if the paid leave runs out and the employee goes on unpaid leave, the employee must pick up the full cost of the benefits or seek benefits from the military.
"That means an employee under Columbia -- Free State health insurance, for example, must go from paying $52 a month to paying the full amount, or $348 a month," said Landers.
"If the employee's family seeks health benefits from the military, they must go to the military installation to where his or her unit is attached," Landers said. "All this is an unfair burden to place on city employees who are being asked to risk their lives for us."
McLean rose quickly to oppose the resolution saying the council shouldn't act on something without knowing its fiscal impact on the financially strapped city.
"It is our obligation to be responsible in spending our taxpayers' money," said McLean. "Besides, the government pays these reservists very well while on active duty, very well indeed. They can afford to pay for their own benefits."
Landers said the city's share of the cost of employees' health benefits has already been budgeted. He noted that cost would be offset by the savings the city would realize by not paying salaries while the employees involved where on unpaid leave.
"It's not too much to ask to be fiscally responsible and compassionate at the same time," Landers retorted.
"If we do it for this group of city employees, we'll have to do it for all city employees," McLean shot back. "You talk about compassion for those who are laying down their lives in the Middle East. There is no war over there, yet."
When the debate ended, the council passed the resolution on a vote of 14-1 with two abstentions and two council members not present.
After the vote, McLean denied that this was a preview of the coming campaign for city comptroller, "I was just standing up for what something I believe."
"I don't know what else you could call it but political," said Landers after the meeting. "If she was opposing it for that reason it was in bad taste." Incumbent City Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman has said he will not seek another term.