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June 3, 2020

4/7/2020 7:30:00 AM
Council votes to pay mayoral health insurance allowance
Frederickson to receive just under $7,000 for last 24 months; monthly payments through term
Heather Schaefer
Associate Editor

Just shy of two years after he was sworn in as mayor, Chris Frederickson is due to receive a payment of just under $7,000, as well as monthly payments of approximately $290 for the duration of his term, after the City Council voted unanimously Thursday to pay a mayoral health insurance allowance put in place during former mayor Dick Johns' term in office.

A resolution in support of the mayoral health insurance allowance was put forth by alderman Steve Sauer. In introducing the resolution, Sauer noted that funds for this purpose were budgeted following a discussion in October 2019.

"We need to look at the fact that whether the mayor wants it or not, ummm, we're required to pay it out, per ordinance," Sauer said. "What he does with the money, at that point, is up to him. But, it's a straight fact and that's where the back pay comes in. Because realistically it should have been paid out starting with his election."

Alderman Ryan Rossing asked why the monies had not been paid out over the last two years.

Sauer offered this response.

"So historically, going back, at some point, Dick Johns chose not to receive it anymore. (I'm) not sure whether he legally could chose not to receive it anymore. So he did not receive it the last year, year and a half he was in office. So, it just wasn't paid out. It wasn't set up in the budget as a payout."

"Why it wasn't paid out is a question I can't answer," he added later.

The resolution quotes City of Rhinelander Ordinance 2.01.17 (2) which states "The Mayor shall be compensated $40.00 per meeting attended at which the committee, board or commission members are also being compensated and $85.00 for each Council meeting attended. In addition, the Mayor shall receive an annual salary of $12,000,00 payable monthly by the City Clerk. The Mayor shall also receive a car allowance of $100.00 per month, and 50 percent of the cost of health insurance equivalent to the policy being offered to regular full-time City employees."

The resolution notes that, up until now, Frederickson has received neither "50 percent of the cost of health insurance equivalent to the policy being offered to regular full-time City employees, nor any form of health insurance allowance since he was officially sworn into office."

The resolution also lists the monthly premiums of health insurance for a single city employee, at the highest deductible available, in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

According to the resolution, in 2018, that figure was $574.12. In 2019 it went up to $585.03 and remained the same in 2020.

The resolution goes on to suggest the city should pay Frederickson $2,583.54 for his 9 months of service in 2018, $3,510.18 for the 12 months of 2019 and $877.55 for the first three months of 2020, with monthly payments to continue until the end of his term in April 2022.

At no point during the discussion did the mayor address whether he receives any type of health insurance coverage through his job as a respiratory therapist at Ascension St. Mary's Hospital or through his spouse. However, according to city attorney Steve Sorenson, it wouldn't matter whether the mayor receives insurance through his spouse or not, as it would be "discriminatory" for the city to refuse to compensate the mayor because he's a married person rather than a single person.

"It would be discriminatory, in fact, to say someone who is married can't get the benefit but someone that's single would get the benefit," Sorenson explained. "My opinion today would be that you cannot discriminate based on marital status, which would mean if your spouse has an insurance policy it would be illegal or improper to deny an individual coverage, if that was the intent. But it looks to me, by the very reading of the ordinance, that the intent is to pay a supplemental amount of money and there's no direct tie that that money has to be, in turn, used to cover medical assistance or medical insurance payments. That's the way it's written now. If you want to clarify it sometime later, you certainly could. But the way it's read now, you'd have to interpret the words to say something that maybe that was the intent but there not in the words. But I could certainly read it to say that if I want to. But I wasn't there when it was voted on. I do know that it was paid before (to Johns). I do know it would be illegal to discriminate if someone's spouse has insurance but beyond that I can't give you any other legal advice other than it (the statute) says it's supposed to be paid."

Before the vote was recorded, Frederickson made a brief statement indicating the matter was "uncomfortable" for him, however he made no indication that he would not accept the money.

"Just as a note, this is uncomfortable for me and I'd like the council to know I've spent zero time worrying about this whatsoever. There are by far more pressing matters in this city that need to be taken care of. Though I do I appreciate the due diligence to the ordinance and making sure we do things correctly. So I appreciate that yet, at the same time, it's not of a whole lot of value to me."

After hearing from Sorenson, the council voted unanimously to pay Frederickson the allowance.

The River News has asked Frederickson to clarify whether he intends to accept the money. As of press time, he has not responded to our message.

He will be up for re-election in 2022.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to pay By Request Media $250 per media to livestream council meetings through June 1, 2020.

According to the discussion, the council anticipates it will hold five meetings between now and June 1.

The next council meeting is scheduled for April 13.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, April 14, 2020
Article comment by: Brian Holmes

I wonder if Mr. Rog has ever not taken salary and benefits due him, or whether his wife has, for that matter.

Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2020
Article comment by: Jeremy Walker

Where is the proof? I'm sure the mayor would gladly show reciepts if he was asked to by council.Plus this is an ordinance. That was written for Mayor Johns to help him with his insurance costs. Until that ordinance is changed the city has a legal obligation to pay out that money. Who's to say the current mayor won't put that money back into his budget? Not you. I'm sure the mayor is uncomfortable with the situation. Who wouldn't be.Also Atty Sorenson never said the Mayor was gonna sue the city if he didn't get the money. He said it would discriminatory if the City refused to pay it based on marital status. Nice try at turning the story around as reported on.

Posted: Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Article comment by: Christopher Rog

Unless the Mayor can produce receipts showing he actually has these health insurance costs, integrity, along with the city’s financial crisis, demands he decline this money. This insurance reimbursement rule was put in place years ago in sympathy for a retired, elderly, low-income previous mayor who had sudden difficulties with his pension-related coverage from his former employer. This Mayor is now using that poorly worded city code to take money as additional salary, not for insurance premiums as it was intended.

Alderman Sauer says: “So it’s up to the Mayor whether he wants it or not, ummm”. But of course he wants it Sauer, why do you think he put it on him meeting agenda in the first place!

Moreover, on one hand, the Mayor says this is “uncomfortable” for him. But on the other hand, acting city attorney Steve Sorensen of Appleton suggests that if the City does not grant the Mayor this money immediately, the mayor would sue the city for discrimination on the grounds that “he’s a married man”. Excuse me?

So the mayor says he is “uncomfortable” taking this money, but his attorney says he plans to sue if it isn’t granted?

Mayor, In this day and age, most of us don’t take advantage of the fine print to enrich ourselves at City Taxpayer expense, and then justify it by saying ‘I had no choice but to take this money because my hands are tied’. Of courses you have a choice. See what the previous mayor did. If you insist on taking this money, please donate it to a cause, i.e. water filters, to the food bank, for playground equipment or road repairs. Doing so might be a sign you recognize that your concern for this city’s municipal financial crisis must trump your desire for semi-illicit personal enrichment at taxpayer expense.

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