2018-02-18 / News

Council weighs what the law allows vs. helping former employee’s widow

By Jeanne Marcello
Staff Reporter

CITY OF MONTROSE – During the Thursday, Feb. 15 meeting of the Montrose City Council, Steve Fejedelem asked to the city council to do what’s right for the widow of former Montrose City DPW director Matthew Fejedelem, who died Jan. 1.

City Administrator Neil Rankin explained that Matthew Fejedelem was not a union employee. “Our health plan has a retiree agreement addendum,” he said. Rankin commented, “It’s an unusual means for providing a retirement benefit.”

The retirement plan provided insurance and retirement benefits for Fejedelem as long as he was alive. Once he died, his widow, Penney, no longer had insurance benefits. She has health issues that require medical treatment. However, she hasn’t been able to get medical treatment since his death.

Rankin said the city’s health plan doesn’t allow them to keep a retiree’s family on the insurance after that retiree dies.

One of Fejedelem’s daughters said, “We called Blue Care Network. They said it’s up to the city (whether to continue insurance coverage).” She said the city is cutting off insurance to someone with a life-threatening illness. It was revealed that neither Matthew nor Penney were eligible for Medicare because they were too young.

City attorney Otis Stout explained that the benefits spelled out in the document ceased once Fejedelem died.

Mayor Colleen Brown said, “We agreed to cover it until he was age 65.” She noted that Fejedelem’s retirement plan was adopted in the form of a resolution from 2005, when he retired.

Rankin said, “It’s unfortunate.”

One of Fejedelem’s daughters told the council that the health insurance company quoted Penney $850 per month to continue health insurance. She already missed two months of medical treatments due to the lack of insurance. And now, if Penney isn’t reinstated on the insurance plan by next week, she would have to go out on the open market for insurance.

Stephania Fejedelem called for a little bit of notice before cutting off insurance to the widow of “a man who dedicated his life to the city.”

Stout said, “Dependents were not recognized in the agreement.”

Stephania Fejedelem said, “Never once did [her dad] get a full week of vacation.”

Stout responded, “We’re not going to establish a new standard.”

Mayor Brown reviewed the retirement document saying, “So (when the council adopted) the resolution giving him the benefits in 2005, he was not a contract employee, he was not a union employee.”

Councilwoman Christy Sanborn asked, “Legally, can you make a backdated resolution?”

Otis said, “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Councilman Eldon Dunklee asked if they could somehow share the cost of insurance with Penney.

Stout said, “We all would like to help Penney.”

Fejedelem’s brother, Steve, questioned whether Fejedelem understood the retirement resolution. Stout said, “There’s really nothing we can do.”

Mayor Brown said, “It just feels wrong.”

Councilman Mark Richard said, “If Matt was alive, we’d still be paying him until he was age 65. So, the city should have the money. There should’ve been some sort of grace period.”

Councilwoman Deb Gross said, “It’s not about Penney. It’s a sad, sad situation. It has nothing to do with Matt’s loyalty to the city. It’s sad.”

Stout said, “The city fulfilled its obligation to Matt.”

Dunklee made a motion to direct the city administrator to come up with a solution. “See what you can come up with,” Dunklee told Rankin.

Rankin responded, “We would get in trouble for providing benefits for someone who is not an employee.”

Dunklee asked if they could place Penney Fejedelem on the payroll, but she is not able to work.

Richard said, “I need to see a law.”

Stephania Fejedelem asked the city council, “The people who work for the city, you, you’re all covered by [city health] insurance?” Council members responded, “no”.

Council members voted unanimously to direct the city manager and attorney to find a solution. Then they went into closed session to discuss the possibility of purchasing property from Montrose Township.

Meanwhile, a group of Fejedelem’s family and friends stood outside the city office talking.

Lisa Klein, who is one of his daughters, explained that when her father was diagnosed with cancer, he died within six months. She said Fejedelem’s doctor attributed the cancer to the work he was doing for the city.

His other daughter, Stephania Fejedelem, talked about how her father often spent Christmas plowing the streets of Montrose, not having Christmas dinner with his family.

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