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County commissioners get into heated debate over benefits

A heated discussion about benefits for county commissioners during their March 28 meeting escalated to the point a five-minute recess had to be called for everyone to calm down.
“We can disagree in this body, but we can do it respectfully,” said Mayor Dan Eldridge prior to calling the time-out.
Commissioner Ethan Flynn broached the benefits topic when he again voiced his opposition to commissioners receiving health insurance, despite being unable to rally anyone to his side the month before during a similar discussion.
Flynn missed the January meeting where commissioners approved a resolution for no change in commissioner compensation, including insurance benefits and pay.
All commissioners receive $375 per month for their service as elected officials. Twelve of the commissioners also elect to receive health insurance benefits at a cost to the county of $1,400 per month per commissioner.
In February, Flynn appealed to fellow commissioners to lead by example.
“The taxpayers sent a message by electing 14 new commissioners,” he said. “And if we want to send a message, we need to cut our insurance.”
Flynn said 44 county employees are currently denied insurance because they don’t meet eligibility requirements.
“It’s hypocritical for us to give it to ourselves,” he said. “And I would like us to look at this.”
His request died on the floor when no motion was made.
Flynn returned in March, this time making a recommendation himself.
“I move we rescind the motion made in January to not change commissioner benefits,” he said.
After several seconds of silence, Commissioner Joe Corso said he would second the motion to allow for discussion.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson, chair of the Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee, which made the recommendation for no change, provided meeting schedules for the CIA Committee and the Commission. He encouraged Flynn to attend so he would know what is going on in Washington County.
Commissioner Greg Matherly stated a larger picture is at-hand, saying his own constituents want to reduce the number of commissioners.
“We have some bigger issues to look at,” he said.
Flynn insisted the Commission should make a statement to its shareholders by committing to reduce the amount it spends on health insurance for its members.
“Do you have health insurance,” Ferguson asked.
When Flynn answered with a “yes,” Ferguson asked what company he is with. Flynn said he receives insurance through the school system in which he serves as a teacher.
“Oh, your employer,” Ferguson quipped. “No more questions.”
Flynn angrily responded, saying he knows what it is like to not have insurance. He cited a needed trip to the emergency room he once had to take while uninsured.
Ferguson then called for the bailiff to remove Flynn from the courtroom where the meeting was taking place.
Because only the mayor can order this action, Flynn remained at the table.
“Can someone get a toy out of his (Flynn’s) backpack and give it to him to play with?” Commissioner Roger Nave suggested.
The only commissioners who voted to rescind the January motion were Flynn, Mitch Meredith and Joe Grandy.
Eldridge expressed his disappointment to the Herald & Tribune in a later interview.
“My expectations are that we can come to the meetings and there will be disagreements,” he said. “But we must remember we are representing the people of Washington County and we have to do that in a professional manner.”
Despite its reaching an uncomfortable level, Eldridge said he purposely allowed the debate on commissioner benefits to continue.
“Washington County is fighting a reputation of back-room deals, and I want these issues to be debated and decided in the light of day,” he said. “There were a lot of people from the public in attendance, and it is helpful for them to know their commissioners’ positions.”
Eldridge said he hopes the Commission will come to the April meeting with a different mindset.
“We can’t do the people’s business that way,” he said.