City officials are not commenting on the latest lawsuit to be filed against the Waycross City Commission, litigation brought by retired city employees who are unhappy about being removed from city health insurance coverage.
On Dec. 9, the day the suit was filed, Superior Court Judge Kelly Brooks signed a temporary restraining order to keep the retirees covered beyond Jan. 1 (the scheduled date of cancellation).
City Manager Raphel Maddox said Thursday, “On the advice of our city attorney, I cannot comment” on pending litigation, a recommendation confirmed by City Attorney Rick Currie.
On Sept. 21, city commissioners “reluctantly” voted to drop retirees from the city’s insurance, saying the city could no longer bear the cost. The action was taken after discussions in several preceding meetings and assurances being given by city administrators that retirees could purchase on their own affordable health insurance on a par with what the city provides.
The staff had warned the commission that failure to make the change and others would result in higher costs to the city and higher premiums to the employees and retirees.
In recent years, the city has seen health care claims rise to $2 million a year.
At the Dec. 21 meeting, Commissioner Marian Solomon-Gaines called it a “very difficult decision that we must make based on (insurance) funding costs. Still, I have had the staff convince me that retirees will not be ‘kicked to the curb.’ The city will assist retirees to transition to exchanges.”
At least 15 of the retirees are not taking the cancellation well, and thus, the lawsuit.
As a backdrop to the latest lawsuit, the city is still seeking resolution to the court case concerning the de-annexation of Waycross out of Pierce County. City and Pierce County officials are currently composing an agreement reached in court-ordered mediation that will be presented to Judge Brooks.
The city filed the lawsuit in response to legislation written by State Rep. Chad Nimmer in 2015, passed and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, that removed Pierce County territory from Waycross city limits. City officials declared that the bill was unconstitutional and that they were not adequately notified in advance about the pending bill. They also sought legal relief to be able to stop providing water and sewer service in Pierce County.
So far, rulings have gone against the city, forcing it to continue to serve Pierce water and sewer customers who are no longer within the city jurisdiction.
But, Brooks has not ruled on the original lawsuit filed by Currie. Brooks postponed passing judgment and ordered the litigants to have a mediation hearing.
What transpired in the October mediation hearing is not yet able to be made public, Currie said. He said there is an agreement in principle and that the parties involved are “still working on the details in the written document” that will be presented to Brooks.
The judge will then approve the mediated agreement or hand down his own terms.