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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.
Michael Agosta January 15, 2014 at 04:38 PM
Now that Trawinski is off the council and not collecting his medical stipend from the town, it makes perfect sense to bring this up again.
Irving Schlatter January 15, 2014 at 08:09 PM
When turdechi and teratski pulled the blind switch on boro employees and the police who defended them? Glad to see the Mayor saving money and keeping his promise. Part time politicians do not need full time benefits!
Mayor Goldie Wilson January 15, 2014 at 08:22 PM
Having to turn down full time job offers in order to be able to serve on the council? Outrageous! Although…wait…don't the other council members have full time jobs? They seem to be serving just fine. And how would eliminating benefits dissuade those who are not "financially stable" from running? Someone who didn't have benefits to begin with would simply continue to not have benefits. Unless you're suggesting that those without coverage should run for council in order to get benefits?
BellairBerdan January 15, 2014 at 09:16 PM
There's an old saying "You get what you pay for." When Swain was mayor she was everywhere. In fact many of you used to say how you couldn't stand seeing her face anymore. When Baratta was mayor and Hurricane Sandy came you never saw her. She was too buy with her county pork job to be seen. Of course she was able to tweet what polling places were open and that Democrats should vote on the wrong day. Fair Lawn First? Now considering that it already is a personal choice to have your full time employer pay for your benefits. Most who have full time jobs with benefits do that. It has to make a thinking person wonder why they are doing this. There can only be 2 possibilities. 1: Do it as a personal vendetta against your political enemy. Or 2: Prevent any of the majority of the People from serving to keep your elite club closed. Which is it? Because those that want to use this as a political stepping stone can still let their full time employers pay their way and save Fair Lawn money.
Bree January 16, 2014 at 12:03 AM
Do other volunteers get benefits (Fire Rescue, Ambulance)? Dunay & Lefkowitz said they would eliminate the benefits during their campaign. Swain questioned the Mayors appointment at the meeting last week. Therefore, how was she targeted for something she said a week ago when this was being discussed months ago? I believe most of the volunteer emergency service volunteers are able to hold down full time jobs in addition to volunteering. Therefore, if a Councilperson can't manage both that sounds more like a personal issue. Do Councilpersons track their hours? Maybe they're putting in full time hours for the town? Did they do away with the stipend that was offered to the Council?
Irving Schlatter January 16, 2014 at 07:15 AM
Look at the arrogance of these 2 democrats. While public employees are paying a large sum (up to 1/3) for their benefits, these 2 are getting benefits for near zero. The mayor is right, no need for part time politicians having full time benefits.
Marilyn Carlin January 16, 2014 at 07:25 AM
If what I heard at the Council Meeting is correct, it is important to note that when credit for saving the people of Fair Lawn tax monies this savings amounts to approximately 20 cents per taxpayer. I have no issue doing away with the benefit but to pull the benefit from one person so abruptly is not political than the bi-partisan way to do it is allow the benefit to the end of the term of Councilwoman Swain with the understanding that if she runs again this benefit is no longer available. We need to learn how to coexist better in politics to make the peoples lives happier. Twenty cents savings a year per tax payer is a drop in the bucket!
jim January 16, 2014 at 07:50 AM
irving, only swain is getting benefits peluso doesnt and as it says in the article he was on board for cutting them last year. thats why the timing seems odd considering cosgrove, peluso, and baratta could have ended the benefits last year. -if this issue was so important why did the mayor wait until now to do it? was he saving it so "team cosgrove" could campaign on this issue or was he doing trawinski a favor letting him continue to double dip on benefits? -cosgrove make a valid point that outting trawinski on open space committee could be useful because of his knowledge of the law. however out of all the members was goldstein (dem) the best member to remover? i heard she did a great job and was very committed. id be curious if there were less qualified people who remain on the committee who happen to be in the republican club or helped team cosgrove campaign. -since swain is a dem there is a good chance she voted for obama. so shouldnt she have no problem signing up for obama care? politicians should practice what they preach. i am not buying that her time on council prevents her from getting a full time job, other council members have full time jobs and/or young families and they are able to handle it. however marilyn's solution above seems fair and logical. -i think the most important question is with the money saved on council benefits plus the absurd rise in commuter parking, where is that extra money going? are the residents going to see a decrease in taxes or is the council going to spend that money somewhere that only benefits a few people?
Michael Agosta January 16, 2014 at 08:45 AM
A little refresher: http://fairlawn-saddlebrook.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/should-council-members-take-a-stipend-and-health-benef66d1fc7dc
Michael Agosta January 16, 2014 at 08:54 AM
In 2011, Memorial pool brought in about $280,000 in revenue. It costs approximately $750,000 to operate. This "cornerstone" of the community runs at a $470,000+ loss each year. Less than 15% of the residents use this "cornerstone" of the community. http://fairlawn-saddlebrook.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/memorial-pool-membership-consistent-over-time He pledged they would maintain the community's "cornerstones," including the library, community center, senior center and Memorial Pool. http://fairlawn-saddlebrook.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/council-keeps-cosgrove-mayor-elects-republicans-as-deputy-mayors
BellairBerdan January 16, 2014 at 09:24 AM
Thank you Michael for the refresher. What was once a personal choice now needs to be a resolution? Certainly sounds like a punitive and exclusionary tactic. If Irving wants to talk arrogance, does he not remember how for months Mr Dunay emphatically stated that no Republican on the council took any benefits and how Trawinksi could not possibly be considered to be a double dipper since he received no salary (stipend) or benefits from Fair Lawn. Then months later it became public that Trawinski in his $190K county pork job had been taking benefits from Fair Lawn all along.
The Most Interesting Man in the World January 16, 2014 at 12:50 PM
At $25,000 per councilperson is $125,000 a year if they all took advantage of this benefit. Over 2 terms, 8 years, $1,000,000 would be spent. At 2 meetings a month, it costs over $5200 a meeting just in health care or over $1000 in benefits per meeting per councilperson. By accepting this kind of compensation, is this really volunteering? This seems like a very reasonable place to save the taxpayer.
Irving Schlatter January 16, 2014 at 01:23 PM
About time there's responsible politicians in fair lawn, don't ever forget how the three "T's" destroyed things.
Bruce Knuckle January 16, 2014 at 03:38 PM
Swain needs to stop pouting and just do whats right for Fair Lawn. She yells about retalition but sat quietly defending a police chief that cost us millions because of his retaliation. My advice to her: shut up and use Obuma care.
jim January 16, 2014 at 03:53 PM
bruce- how do you sit quietly and defend someone at the same time? usually you have to speak to defend someone, or know sign language i guess... maybe interpretive dance, although then she wouldnt be sitting. im pretty sure none of the council members fought the police chief issue because it would have cost more money in court fees
Bruce Knuckle January 16, 2014 at 05:10 PM
Jim. You missed both points. Her silence spoke for her. Not addressing the pd issue cost the town much more. The council wouldnt have had to fight anything if it were nipped early, thus eliminating any loss. If Swain wants insurance for her and her husband, she needs to pay for it, not me. I can explain it with sign language if you need me to with the help of 1 finger.
The Most Interesting Man in the World January 16, 2014 at 05:37 PM
Ms. Swain has a husband that is an attorney, turns down full time employment to pursue part time politics and drives a Beemer...this sounds more like the elitist Joan Goldstein is speaking of than anyone else on council.
BellairBerdan January 16, 2014 at 06:17 PM
Putting a roadblock in the way of any part time worker, unemployed person or regular joe that may be convinced to serve in the future is the perfect way to get even with Ms Swain, right TMIMITW? Gotta love those Christie Republicans, willing to hurt the entire town to get even with one person. Personal choice isn't good enough anymore.
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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