Questions remain about retirement, benefits for city elected officials

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

With the announcement that the Liberty Hill City Council would be receiving compensation, it’s unclear whether the five Council members and the Mayor will also qualify for employee benefits that could include health insurance and retirement.

The question, when posed to City officials, highlighted the growing lack of basic communication and willingness to share information with The Independent.

In an email from The Independent Feb. 7, City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann and Finance Director Becky Wilkins were asked to confirm whether or not Council members would be eligible for employee benefits. Neither responded until a follow-up email was sent Tuesday, to which Zwernemann responded, “This question isn’t relevant. There have been no discussions or plans about benefits for the Mayor and / or Council members.”

But according to the Texas Municipal Retirement System (TMRS), any employee who works a minimum of 1,000 hours per year qualifies and is included in the retirement plan unless otherwise determined by the municipality.

While the new job description for Council members spells out they must work 10 hours per week, leaving them well below the 1,000 hours per year required to be enrolled, Mayor Rick Hall’s job description notes that the Mayor must work 32 hours per week, putting the position at 1,664 hours per year.

A representative with TMRS said enrollment in the system is automatic for employees unless the City in question determined a position would not be eligible for participation.

The City has never clarified the status of compensation, choosing even in the announcement in August during the budget process to refer to the planned compensation as a “pay structure” for the Council without addressing their status as employees.

If Hall does qualify for enrollment in TMRS, he would be eligible to contribute up to seven percent with the City contributing a 2-to-1 match. Employees are vested at five years.

Questions unanswered
While Zwernemann responded that the question was not relevant, she did not respond to a follow-up email to confirm that steps had been taken to address the benefits question in dealing with the Mayor and Council positions.

Wilkins, who also oversees human resources for the City did not respond at all.

In an email response, Hall said Wilkins did not respond to the question “because this has never been discussed so she had no answers for this question.”

He also reiterated it had never been discussed, but no member of the staff or the Mayor were willing to answer questions by phone on the process to explain how the compensation arrangement was set up or how the Mayor position would be determined ineligible for benefits.

A later email Tuesday morning from Zwernemann detailed new requirements for requesting information, implying that simple questions to understand process and function of the Liberty Hill government would not be addressed any other way.

“Please note there are no responsive documents related to your questions submitted today. Further, the City of Liberty Hill has a duty to respond to written requests for public information, including those made through e-mail. However, state law does provide that the City may designate one e-mail address for receiving written requests for public information. Effective Monday – March 2, 2020 the City of Liberty Hill will implement a designated email address for submitting public information requests. On that date, a written request submitted through e-mail is only considered received if sent to the designated e-mail address referenced below.”

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