EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 10, 2014

Debate on Town Meeting health insurance continues

Andover resident may call for reconsideration of vote to approve $15.7M health account

ANDOVER — A legal opinion read into the record at Town Meeting last Monday night and intended to quell a controversial budget amendment has stirred a controversy of its own as questions are now being asked about its appropriateness.

The opinion, read by Town Counsel Tom Urbelis and written by the town’s labor attorney Bill Collins, stated that Town Meeting had to vote in favor of the $15.7 million health insurance fund or be in violation of state law.

Town Manager Reginald ‘Buzz’ Stapczynski said he requested the legal opinion because he knew there might be an effort by Town Meeting member Bob Landry to cut the line item for employee health insurance.

Sure enough, last Monday night Landry proposed cutting the employee health insurance budget by $680,000 - the same amount that would have been saved if a committee made up of the town’s labor unions had accepted Tufts as its new health insurance carrier.

His amendment failed by just 9 votes, and Landry is now crying foul, saying that the legal opinion unfairly - and erroneously - swayed voters against his amendment.

“Town Meeting is not a courtroom,” he said. “It’s meant to reflect the will of the people.”

Stapczynski said that the vote on health insurance was actually a vote to approve an appropriation and that appropriations need to be approved so that the town isn’t in default on its obligations. In this case, the obligation was to fulfill the town’s end of a health insurance contract negotiated with municipal employees.

But Selectman Mary O’Donoghue said yesterday that Town Meeting has amended appropriations in the past.

“I didn’t understand where it (the legal ruling) was coming from,” she said. “You can amend an appropriation. We’ve done that before. That doesn’t seem like the right answer.”

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