Brick Council Benefits Debate Gets Personal
Shouting match erupts at meeting; mayor could have final say on future benefits
Brick Councilman John Ducey was ready when fellow Councilman Domenick Brando put forth a proposal to eliminate council members' salaries and health benefits at Tuesday night's meeting of the governing body.
What resulted was an all-out argument between council members, who accused each other of being liars and taking advantage of their positions in township government for personal gain.
"In light of what's going on, since Sandy, and in light of some promises that were made in the election a couple years ago, people's feet need to be held to the fire," said Brando, suggesting that three Democrats on the council went back on campaign promises not to take taxpayer health benefits if elected.
Brando held up a campaign poster from the Democrats advertising as much.
But Ducey, one of four Democrats who took office last year, immediately blasted Brando for holding a full-time position at the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority while also collecting a disability pension from his former position as a police officer.
"I find it interesting that the particular person to make this motion is the worst offender of taxpayer benefits and money," said Ducey, referring to Brando.
Ducey then went line-by-line through Brando's compensation, and said between pension, benefits and MUA salary, he had made $820,078 since 2006.
Brando shot back at Ducey, accusing him of "deceiving the people" by taking benefits after saying during the campaign he would not be eligible for them.
"I would gladly take my police job back, any day of the week," said Brando, explaining that he suffered a "severe spinal injury" in the line of duty.
"I lost almost everything in my life, gone."
But the argument didn't end there.
"How can you do that?" said Councilman Jim Fozman, to Brando. "How can you just suck the money up? Be a man!"
"How many public jobs do you have?" asked Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis, of Ducey. "What do you make, $300,000 from all of your jobs? And you're going to go after a disabled police officer?"
Ducey would later say he makes only about 3 percent of the mayor's figure, from his positions as prosecutor and alternate prosecutor in several local municipalities.
"Maybe I'll start taking the 50 grand again, since you guys went back on your promises," the mayor said, referencing the mayoral salary he gave up last year.
Ducey also went on the offensive against Councilman Joseph Sangiovanni, who seconded Brando's resolution.
Sangiovanni earns approximately $97,000 per year in his position as the Brick school district's transportation director, Ducey said.
"We have a combined $1.7 million between the two people who made that motion and seconded that here tonight," said Ducey.
"You both have jobs that are paid solely by the tax dollars of the people in this room, and your benefits that cover your whole family," added Councilwoman Susan Lydecker. "Will you both be dropping your health care benefits through your employers?"
In the end, Brando's resolution was not adopted by the council. Only he and Sangiovanni voted in favor of it when a roll call vote was taken.
But the issue may not be dead.
Acropolis said he will review the township's health insurance plan options when the current contract is up in October, and may decide to switch the town into the state's health plan, which bars part-time elected officials from receiving taxpayer-funded benefits.
"Enjoy your benefits while you have them," said Acropolis. "Because as of Oct. 1, we could go into the state benefits plan and you're all kicked out."
After the meeting, Acropolis said the benefits offered under the state's plan could be considered equal to the township's self-insurance plan, which would fulfill a legal obligation to the public employee bargaining units under their current contracts against reductions in coverage.
"We will review that, as we always do, in October," he said.
For Brando's part, "I was the one who put that out there, and I stand by that," he said. "Everybody skirted around what I brought up tonight."
Acropolis said an eventual switch to the state insurance plan could be decided by the administration without a council vote.
Ducey and Fozman, along with Councilmen Bob Moore and Dan Toth, accept health benefits from their positions on the council.
Brando, Sangiovanni and Lydecker do not.
Acropolis has suggested taking the potential money saved by eliminating salaries and benefits for council members and putting toward a storm relief fund.
"It's $1.7 million over 10 years," he said. "That's $25,000 to cover 200 homes to be raised."