DETROIT (WXYZ) - Amidst inquiries from the Action News Investigators, Wayne County officials moved today to end a controversial health benefit that gave top Wayne County officials essentially free lifetime health coverage.
County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak acknowledged the move to end the perk is a result of WXYZ's questions about the perk.
The move was announced today at a special meeting of the Wayne County Commission, where a task force convened to probe severance issues exposed by an Action News investigation in September.
The report showed that Turkia Mullin, the former Wayne County economic development chief, was paid $200,000 in severance when she voluntarily left her position. Mullin resigned from the county to become the CEO of Detroit Metro Airport, and promised to return the severance to the county.
Since August, Action News has been making inquiries with the offices of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and all fifteen Wayne County Commissioners about whether the little-known perk should be amended or ended while the county faces a $160 million budget deficit, threatens to close parks, and cuts wages for employees.
On September 19, following inquires from WXYZ-TV, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano issued a statement saying that eliminating Amann benefits "could be something we discuss with the commission in the coming months."
The perk, started under the Ed McNamara administration, provided essentially lifetime health benefits for elected county officials, county commissioners, department heads, deputy department heads and others who leave the county after serving 8 or more years.
Inside Wayne County, officials referred to the perk as the “Amann benefit,” after former commissioner Bryan Amann, who threatened to sue the county in 1994 unless an restriction on the perk—limiting participation to those 45 years and older—was removed.
In 1994, the county commission voted to remove the restriction. Amann, 37 at the time, was among the first to receive the amended benefit when he left the commission that year.
Action News has repeatedly requested how much these benefits cost county taxpayers, but Wayne County officials have provided no information. They did acknowledge that 61 former county employees are benefiting from the perk.
Moving forward, officials who join the county after October 1 of this year will not be eligible for the benefit.
The county commission still needs to vote later this month to formally end the perk, but Woronchak promised the all fifteen commissioners would agree to eliminate the benefit.
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