In a meeting Tuesday evening, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. proposed to the Little Rock Board of Directors that the city remain under a “fully insured” healthcare plan with United Health Care, which currently provides health insurance for city employees. After a 15 percent increase in the cost of insurance premiums over the last year, the city would pay “no more” than $15 million for employee health care in 2020. The board will vote on Scott’s proposal in two weeks.
Scott’s recommendation comes after discussions with his “executive administration” — which includes City Manager Bruce Moore, City Finance Director Sara Lenehan and in this case, Human Resources Director Stacey Witherell — about two options for next year’s health care plan: The city could switch to a “self-funded” clinically integrated network, also known as a CIN, through CHI St. Vincent, or stay with its current plan and experience a 15 percent increase. Scott said Tuesday that he proposes the city remain under its current fully-funded model with United Healthcare in order to “prepare” for a switch to the CIN model in 2021. The mayor added it’s his “strong intent” to “move towards” the self-funded model by building “reserves” during 2020 to help cushion the city’s budget for an eventual switch.
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At last week’s agenda meeting, Tom Kane, executive vice president of Stephens Insurance and manager of the city’s health insurance plan with United, told city leaders that after deciding which health care model to proceed with for 2020, they would also need to decide how the city will distribute the 15 percent cost increase for employee insurance, regardless of which model they choose. On Tuesday, Moore explained that along with Scott’s recommendation to remain under the fully-funded model, “for the first time in [the] history of the city,” Little Rock will ask its employees to share in the cost of this increase. Moore said there will be about a $1.2 million increase, 50 percent of which the city would “pick up,” leaving the remaining balance to be paid by employees.
Directors Joan Adcock, Doris Wright and Kathy Webb asked how the changes to benefit packages and insurance costs could affect employees, especially considering they’ve never been required to pay for insurance under the city’s coverage before.
“Every employee knows that depending on the governing body and the budget constraints, those budgets or those salaries change,” Witherell said. “And unfortunately, I think that’s just a sign of the times, that when the economy is not doing well or revenues are not coming in, that there are going to be changes to the compensation package, unfortunately.”
Scott echoed this sentiment, telling directors that the employee cost is “something that we weighed on our mind, but at the end of the day, it gets down to math.”
“We faced a 24 percent increase based on our health care outcome… not only because of [our] health care outcome, but also due to… previous years of all of us not managing our health care,” Scott said. “So you have those outcomes, it does predict these indicators, but we also know that due to the current health care market, health care is going to increase anyway.”
At-large director Gene Fortson said the city’s previous policy of not requiring employees to pay any premium for health care was “quite a liberal benefit,” saying that “the problem we face is not uniquely the city of Little Rock’s, it’s an industry problem of all types of industries in this city.” He added that however the board decides to proceed, it will need to have a “very extensive communication dialogue with our employees, because this is a substantial change in what they had been accustomed to.”
Scott told the board that it will have the next two weeks to look over his proposal and ask any questions about the changes before voting on it on Oct. 29.
Directors approved an ordinance to establish a Planned Office District at 1300 North Shackleford Road, a building that currently houses the applicant Michael Bennett’s printing company and acts as a dance facility for the Little Rock Bop Club, the Ballroom, Latin and Swing Social Dance Association and the Little Rock Country Dancers. The building, which formerly housed a church and later a daycare, has been converted into a “competition level” ballroom dance floor. Bennett said he and the dance groups wanted to extend the building’s hours and make it available as an event center. Many club members attended the meeting to show support for the ordinance.
“It’s not a honky-tonk. It is a classy dance facility,” one supporter shared. “I’ve helped work on it on my own time. I represent the elder part of this. I always say, all my dance friends are beautiful. But we have all ages, and [this is] an opportunity for Little Rock to actually shine. … It’s an opportunity for us to have a place that’s not loud, not boisterous, it is just a bunch of beautiful people that love to dance.”
The ordinance passed by a unanimous vote from the board, to great applause from many supporters.
During citizen communication, several residents expressed criticism of the Little Rock Police Department and shared support for Ward 2 director Ken Richardson, who was recently detained in the vehicle of an LRPD officer after the director began filming an interaction between the officer and a young man.
Robert Webb, a former candidate for Ward 1 director, began his remarks to the board by saying he was going to “hold out judgment” on whether or not the directors were racist.
“Every time something happens in the black community, there is silence from this board,” Webb said. “Somebody is murdered in the black community: nothing. … What I find interesting here is that no matter what happens in the black community, nobody up here says a word about it. It’s like we don’t exist. We don’t exist.”
Webb said each of the directors “condoned” violence against the black community in their “silence” about Richardson’s experience with the LRPD and other black residents’ experiences with the police. He then shared a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about how “silence is betrayal.”
“‘In the end, we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,’ ” Webb read.
Richardson didn’t comment about the events, other than to say he was “offended and insulted,” but he thanked those who spoke in support of him.
Before Wright could begin her response to the comments, City Attorney Tom Carpenter interrupted to say the “issue” is being looked into, as a complaint has been made and an investigation “is occurring.”
“I’m in a situation where I’ve read something in the newspaper, I have not seen anything official, and we can’t say anything until that’s done, because we not only have an employee, but we’ve got an employee that we have given certain rights to, and we’ve got to go through that process,” Carpenter said. “And that’s not silence, Robert. That’s the very justice that Dr. King asked us to bring.”
Webb then walked out of the meeting, shaking his head.
Directors also approved an ordinance that amends the city’s noise ordinance to allow music to be played at the amphitheater in the River Market until midnight, instead of the current 10:30 p.m. limit.