Saturday, May 06, 2017

+109% RAISES IN ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH: Commissioners Vote Themselves Health Insurance, As 24 Million Americans May Lose Their Coverage

You've got to hand it to those St. Johns County Republicans.

They misused a National Guard Armory for partisan political purposes.

They hold alcohol events without alcohol permits.

They embroiled the National Guard, Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, St. Joseph's Academy, St. Augustine Airport/Northeast Florida Regional Airport in their lawbreaking ways, with government building use and alcohol violation allegations under investigation by federal and state authorities.

This week, they're joyful or silent as the U.S. House of Representatives votes to deprive as many as 24 million Americans of their health care earlier this week.

Yet in a rush to judgment, based on a unproven premise -- that Commissioners' full-time 30 hour work per week --  one of the leading members of the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee passionately persuaded five St. Augustine Beach Commissioners to vote themselves health insurance.

That's 109% de facto pay increase for Commissioners and 91%+ for the Mayor.

All five who voted for health care for themselves are registered Republicans.

Dr. Pawlowski's premise for health care was based on an interpretation of the existing Personnel Manual, which Commissioners themselves approved.  It is based upon the unsworn, unscientific, unproven, implausible, flawed premise is that part-time Commissioners are regular full-time employees, regularly working 30 or more hours per week.

No proof was provide for this assertion.

None exists.

I filed an Open Records request and asked for time records or affidavits.

None exist.

Were there material false statements about working more than 30 hours?

If so, there's ancient hoary equity jurisprudence in Mississippi and Maryland that says legislation procured through fraud can be invalidated as to the wrongdoer.  Perhaps a court would strike down the raise based on improper notice to the public and incomplete and unverified factual recitals (30 hours per week)? There might be some weeks when some Commissioners might work 30 hours, but every week? Commissioners fibbed to themselves after Dr. Pawlowski read his fustian schpiel, emitted to benefit his daughter, Vice Mayor Undine Celeste Pawlowski George.

As Reagan often said to Gorbachev,"Trust but verify."

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the Supreme Court in reversing a decision wrought by perjury, Mesarosh v. United States, 352 U.S. 1, 14 (1956), this "poisoned the water in the reservoir." The people expect "to see that the waters of justice are not polluted. Pollution having taken place here, the condition should be remedied at the earliest opportunity. " Id.

While the Commissioner's health insurance issue was placed on an agenda for discussion on May 1, 2017 (May Day), it was not listed for a vote. Commissioners voted unanimously for health insurance.

Not all of them need it or will accept it.

De facto raises of more than 109% for Commissioners and 91% for the Mayor of St. Augustine Beach?

Not listed as an action agenda item, but only for "discussion."

Is that sneaky, or what?

Did this violate the reasonable expectations of probity?

Was there a rush to judgment because one Commissioner, Vice Mayor Undine George, stated she had experienced health insurance problems?

Was this possibly a de facto quid pro quo for Vice Mayor George's stunning silence on other issues?

Was there a rush to judgment because her father, Dr. Michel S. Pawlowski, D.Sci. spoke passionately in favor of Commissioner coverage?

Was there a violation of Equal Protection by:
1. Not stopping Dr. Pawlowski from speaking during the section of public comment for items NOT on the agenda? (Health insurance was item 6).
Speakers have historically ben interrupted, berated or barked at, told to wait until the pertinent agenda item. Not Dr. Pawlowski.
Vice Mayor George did not interrupt her father's premature presentation, hectoring Commissioners to approve health care because they work 24/7. Presiding over public comment, Vice Mayor Undine Pawlowski George did not gavel her father's premature peroration about health care. (But she and Mayor Richard O'Brien gavelled me for quoting Earl Long about his brother Huey Long's puppet Governor, O.K. Allen, "A leaf blew in his window once and he signed it" in the context of fawningly obeisant Planning and Building Director Gary Larson, "A leaf blew in his window once and he signed it.).
2. Not providing for a cafeteria benefits plan to provide equivalent benefits for ALL Commissioners, not all of whom want health insurance. (Commissioner S. Gary Snodgrass stated in an e-mail, " I will not participate in the city's health insurance plan."
3. Not providing health benefits for volunteer members of City boards like the Planning and Zoning Board.

Health care is a fundamental right as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman believed.

Everyone should have health care.

But the process stinks at St. Augustine Beach, thanks to a loving father and a deferential daughter.

Our Founders stated that this is a government of laws, and not men" (and women).

In Washington, this week, the House of Representatives voted to cancel health care for some 24 million people.

In St. Augustine Beach, Commissioners awarded the Commissioners themselves health care -- that's a 109% pay raise for Commissioners and 91% for the Mayor (more if spousal coverage is chosen).

ALL are registered Republicans, led to do the right thing at the wrong time with the wrong procedure.

Who led them?

None other than St. Augustine Vice Mayor George's own father, Dr. Pawlowski, a member of the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee and former top FEMA official. This is Chicago-style flummery, dupery and nincompoopery, worthy of the late Demcratic Mayor Richard J. Daley.

During law school in Memphis, I clerked for a public interest lawyer, Dan Norwood, who thrice stopped illegal Memphis City COuncil pay raises. St. Augustine needs a Dan Norwood now, someone to go to court and challenge questionable government activities.

Questions are often raised about public officials awarding themselves pay raises -- the most important thing is the process. Congress and federal commissions gather data before proposing pay raises. There are hearings. Consider the 27th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution (proposed 1789 and ratified in 1992). Drafted by then-Representative James Madison of Virginia, the 27th Amendment states: "No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." The U.S. House of Representatives website explains, "Its provision fulfilled Madison’s belief that Congress should not be permitted to vote itself pay raises arbitrarily without constituents being able to register their approval or disapproval. With no time limit on ratification, the 27th Amendment was ratified in May 7, 1992, when Michigan approved it."

As The New York Times explained in 1992 the effect was "modest: simply requiring that any pay increase could not take effect until the next" Congress. The Times continued:

In pressing for the Amendment, which was originally sent to states for ratification as part of the Bill of Rights, Madison uttered words that would not have raised a brow in the well of the House today.

"There is a seeming impropriety in leaving any set of men without control to put their hand into the public coffers, to take out money to put in their pockets," he said as he proposed the Amendment.

…. In a comment that would be prove to be prophetic, Madison said that leaving members of Congress to regulate their own wages was "an indecent thing and might in time prove a dangerous one."

So since 1992, the Constitution has forbidden Congress from giving itself pay raises or decreases during the term of their service; all pay raises must take place during a later term of office.

Makes sense: good subject for consideration of a City of St. Augustine Beach Charter Amendment?

What else did our Founding Fathers say about conflict of interest?

James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 10:
"No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time . . . .".

See also In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955) (Black, J.) ("[O]ur system of law has always endeavored to prevent even the probability of unfairness. To this end no man can be a judge in his own case and no man is permitted to try cases where he has an interest in the outcome."); TWA v. Civil Aeronautics Board, 102 U.S.App.D.C. 391, 392, 254 F.2d 90, 91 (1958). Spencer v. Lapsley, 20 How. 264, 266 (1858); Publius Syrus, Moral Sayings 51 (D. Lyman transl. 1856) ("No one should be judge in his own cause."); Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules 182 (Wight transl. 1859) ("It is not permitted to the most equitable of men to be a judge in his own cause.").

As William Blackstone wrote, 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 91, "[I]t is unreasonable that any man should determine his own quarrel,." citing Dr. Bonham's Case, 8 Rep. 114a (C.P. 1610); see also City of London v. Wood, 12 Mod. 669, 687 (1701)(Lord Holt)(invalidating fine for refusal to serve as sheriff recovered by the city in its own court of Mayor and Aldermen). See also Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813 (1986)(overruling case where Chief Justice of Alabama Supreme Court sat in judgment of case that would set precedent for his own pending case); Ward v. Village of Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57 (1972); Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564 (1973); Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35 (1975); Cinderella Career and Finishing Schools, Inc. v. FTC, 425 F.2d 583 (D.C. Cir. 1970); American Cyanamid Co. v. FTC, 363 F.2d 757 (6th Cir. 1966); .SCA Services, Inc. v. Morgan, 557 F.2d 110 (7th Cir. 1977).

Meanwhile, I think the reasonable expectation of probity requires that a public hearing and final vote occur on the St. Augustine Beach Commissioners' health insurance, with full public notice.

No, I don't think denying Commissioners health insurance was "discriminatory" as Vice Mayor George told The St. Augustine Record. The policy was approved by Commissioners when they approved the City's Personnel Manual, reviewing every jot and tittle. Commissioners did not "discriminate," they chose, and chose wisely, knowing resources are scarce. No one voting for the Personnel Manual thought it was discriminatory. Being a City Commissioner is not being a member of a "discrete and insular majority" or a discriminatee group.

A public hearing is required with an ordinances or zoning; so must giving yourself a 109%+ pay raise as Commissioners (91% for the Mayor).

Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

Posted May 6, 2017 04:29 am
St. Augustine Beach commissioners vote to allow themselves to get city insurance; beach resident raises questions

St. Augustine Beach commissioners recently voted unanimously to allow themselves to enroll in the city’s medical insurance, and a beach resident has raised concerns over the decision.

The cost to the city of providing the insurance is $634.22 per commissioner, according to a city memo. That is about $38,000 a year for just the five commissioners or about $7,610 each year per commissioner. The coverage, which is just for medical, will probably begin on June 1 for commissioners who choose to enroll, according to Melissa Burns, the city’s chief financial officer.

The city will pay 70 percent of the monthly premium for dependents. The city also pays commissioners an annual salary of $6,920, and the city pays the mayor $7,549, according to Burns.

“This is huge to all of a sudden to go carve yourself a big monthly insurance payment that’s over 100 percent of your salary,” said beach resident Tom Reynolds, who also took issue with the item being labeled as a discussion on the agenda.

Vice Mayor Undine George requested the discussion, and in an email response to Reynolds’ complaints, she wrote that the agenda didn’t raise any concerns for her about the public lacking knowledge.

The item was labeled on the agenda as “Health Insurance Benefits for Commissioners: Request by Vice Mayor George to discuss,” and backup materials indicated the commission could make some decision on the issue.

The official vote by­ ­commissioners was for themselves to be considered active employees of 30 hours per week who would be eligible for city medical insurance.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” George said in a phone interview.

She said it’s discriminatory (sic) not to allow commissioners to participate in the city’s insurance program that is provided to other employees.

While the time devoted to the job varies, commissioners are on-call all the time, she said. Work as a commissioner can consume much time, like after Hurricane Matthew when George was on the phone and computer for days fielding Facebook posts and phone calls, she said.

She added that time goes into researching agenda items planned for meetings.

Commissioners hold at least one regular meeting per month and sometimes hold other special meetings.

Reynolds said commissioners are not really on call all of the time.

“Five commissioners aren’t charging out to the scene of a broken water pipe,” Reynolds said.

The city of St. Augustine does not provide insurance to commissioners.

Commissioners in St. Augustine are paid an annual salary of $16,708, and the St. Augustine mayor is paid $22,277 for the year, according to city payroll information.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that St. Augustine Beach has about 7,000 people in the city, and that the city of St. Augustine has about 14,000 people.

St. Johns County’s total population was estimated to be about 235,000 as of July 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county pays commissioners a salary of $71,291 and provides health insurance that covers medical, dental, vision and pharmacy, said Sarah Hand, county communications specialist.

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