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Elimination of Health Benefits for Council Members Called 'Political Retribution'

Proposed move would save Fair Lawn $25,000 per year for each member who uses the benefits.

The Fair Lawn Municipal Building. File photo.
The Fair Lawn Municipal Building. File photo.
The Fair Lawn Council moved toward eliminating benefits for its members during a meeting Tuesday night, but some members questioned the motivation behind the move.

If a resolution is approved, council members would no longer be eligible for medical benefits after May. The benefits cost the town about $25,000 per year for each member who chooses to take them, Mayor John Cosgrove said.

Councilwoman Lisa Swain called the proposal "a political stunt," saying she believed that she was being targeted as the only council member who uses the benefits.

"This is nothing but political retaliation," Swain said.

Swain said she believed she had been targeted for publicly questioning the Republican mayor's decision to appoint former Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski to a seat on the Open Space Committee previously held by Joan Goldstein, who ran for council as a Democrat last year.

Cosgrove denied that the decision was political, noting that most of the borough's volunteers are not entitled to medical benefits. He also previously defended Trawinski's appointment, noting his background in land use law.

"It's not political, it's financial," Cosgrove said.

Councilman Kurt Peluso also said he was concerned with the timing, because the council had previously discussed eliminating their benefits in 2012 and seemed to have a consensus to do it then, but the issue was dropped until the 2013 election when then-candidates Dan Dunay and Amy Lefkowitz made it a campaign issue. He noted that he did support the idea of eliminating council member benefits.

"Why it's coming up now, I see as more political," Peluso said.

Lefkowitz and Dunay also denied it was political, saying they believed it was best for taxpayers.

"Dan and I believed in it, and I resent the comment that this was 'political retribution,'" Lefkowitz said.

The elimination of benefits could have repercussions beyond the current council, Swain said. She works part time and has turned down full-time positions so she can continue serving on the council, she said. 

Eliminating the benefits could dissuade some borough residents from seeking council seats in the future if they're not financially stable, Swain said.

Goldstein called the elimination of benefits "elitist."

"You're saying that only the people who can afford to serve can run," she said.
Irving Schlatter January 16, 2014 at 06:23 PM
Mr Knuckle, your right to post obumbacare. I relish the thought of a fellow dumbocrat reaping the benefits of another social welfare program
Irving Schlatter January 16, 2014 at 06:32 PM
Now that mayor Cosgrove who has been so valiant in his efforts to save the taxpayer money he can look to the State Health Benefits program to save the taxpayer REAL money unlike the old council who poo poohed the idea for their own greed. Ask Turdeshi who his health carrier is and his relationship to IDA!
FL4LIFE January 17, 2014 at 09:57 AM
why didnt he do it when trawinski was double dipping in benefits? if it was so important to save this money why was it put off this long? it was either a favor to trawinski or talking points for dunay and leftkowitz to campaign with.
Pete P January 17, 2014 at 11:09 AM
For the sake of fairness, I would like to suggest that healthcare benefits be offered to our other outstanding volunteers such as elected members to the Board of Education. What about our volunteer fire fighters or members of the ambulance corp. and rescue squad. Fair Lawn volunteers are all necessary and should be treated equally. We should either offer health benefits to all or none. Pick one. Let's not discriminate.
Deleted because of harassment January 21, 2014 at 08:53 PM
What I said elsewhere: I have no trouble with council members being paid or having benefits for the work they do for the community. EVERYONE deserves to be paid for work performed, and council is not "volunteer" - it is the definition of supporting the governance of all of us as lawmakers. I volunteer for various things in town, but NONE of them are lawmaking positions or leadership. The petty-ante bull of pulling volunteers off their positions for political reasons is just that - petty-ante and unproductive for the community that is robbed of those with genuine passion for the work and a desire to serve. And it does not matter which side does it. It is still wrong. Whether or not someone makes a choice to run for elective office, if they are chosen by the voters, what they do has a value to the community and they deserve at least a token recompense for that. The new thing of attacking people's benefits is demeaning, as if their work had no value at all and they were somehow stealing from the taxpayers by doing so. Giving up the token of payment and benefits is and should be a choice and not subject to a public shaming for those who need it as compensation versus those who do. Turning it into a political football is just codifying mean-spiritedness under the guise of appealing to the cheap who place no value on anyone's work (but their own).

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