Houston City Hall
Credit: HOUSTON HERALD FILE PHOTO

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The City of Houston filed a lawsuit Friday against Mayor Willy Walker alleging he wrongly took health insurance benefits.

In the lawsuit in Texas County Circuit Court, the city alleges Walker, elected in April 2019, received health coverage from March 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021, and May 1, 2021, until termination by the city on March 1, 2022. That totals about $10,695. The issue first surfaced in January 2022 at a Houston City Council meeting.

The filing comes after an attorney with Lauber Municipal Law LLC, who was hired as a special counsel by the city, ruled that Walker was not entitled to free health insurance and elected officials can join a city group plan, but are required to pay.

Attorney Nathan M. Nickolaus of the mid-Missouri law firm that specializes in municipal matters, says the city has on several occasions requested the mayor reimburse the city for amounts expended on his benefit, but he has failed to do so. 

Nickolaus said the Houston City Council in January 1997 adopted a resolution that allows elected officials to participate in the city’s health insurance plan, provided they reimburse the city for 100 percent of the premiums. No elected official participates.

The city asks the court to determine a judgment against Walker and all costs expended by the city to recover the money. No initial court date has been set.

The council earlier voted 4-2 in February  (Ross Richardson, Kevin Stilley, Sheila Walker and Angie Gettys) to require the mayor to make the reimbursement and an unanimous decision to employ an outside counsel to study it. Richardson left the council after not seeking re-election in April and was replaced by Don Romines. The other two members of the council are Sam Kelley and Michael Weakly.

RETIREMENT COVERAGE

The mayor and city attorney Brad Eidson tangled again at a council meeting Monday over issues related to Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement System (LAGERS) – a retirement program for city employees and elected officials. The issue first came up during a discussion about the mayor’s health insurance in early 2022. A presentation about the program was made at the council’s last meeting by officials of the retirement system, who clarified the council’s participation.

On Monday, Walker alleged that Eidson, the city’s attorney, wasn’t eligible for the program because he doesn’t work 1,500 hours annually. Eidson said he was tired of bickering with the mayor and refused to engage further and noted he was hired by the city as a salaried employee, was asked to be on call 24-7 and was told he would receive LAGERS. Eidson has been city attorney since July 2003 after the retirement of William Gladden, who held the job for about 40 years.  

Walker asked that outside counsel be hired to examine the issue. On 4-2 vote (yes – Kelley and Weakly), the council turned down the request to hire an attorney.

Mayor responds to issues at city hall

(Editor’s note: Mayor Willy Walker submitted this response Tuesday related to recent issues pertaining to city government).

Regarding the health insurance: I received an open enrollment packet. I was never informed that I needed to pay for the coverage nor was it ever deducted from my check. I declined the offer to continue the coverage when the council determined that I was not eligible for the insurance (premiums would be $452 from my monthly check of $539). These premiums are part of the city’s monthly bills, which are approved by the council every month. It is very ironic Mr. Romines was my campaign opponent last election, Mr. Romines was the person who gave a copy of resolution 93 to Mrs. Gettys, newspaper owner/editor Brad Gentry and does the first and only audio recording of the confrontational meeting about insurance.

And now, Romines has signed the papers to move forward with a civil lawsuit (city council vs. mayor).

This has been a political smear against me since December of 2021. I am looking forward to the day that everyone involved is sworn under oath to tell the truth. I can only hope that these four members of the city council will tell the truth, because as sworn in alderman they have admitted to lying to me several times with no consequence.

It seems very apparent that four members of the council established a rolling quorum and are violating the Sunshine law (which declares Missouri’s commitment to openness in government). Mr. Eidson has had Missouri LAGERS paid in on his income by the city, without an expenditure since 2003. Mr. Edison does not meet the 1,500-hour work requirement to be an active member of our retirement plan, and (according to LAGERs documentation) Mr. Romines was receiving LAGERS prior to being elected on the council. LAGERS has been an issue, along with my insurance, referring to Resolution 93. Yet, four members of our council continue to overlook the LAGERS, and are only concerned with the health insurance that they have approved payment on for months.

I was offered the insurance plan by the city, I had it for about 15 months. Mrs. Gettys has stated that she had known for over a year that I had insurance. Instead of bringing this matter up to the council when Mr. Romines met with her, she chose to continue to allow the premiums to add up. Mr. Romines gave Mrs. Gettys a copy of the resolution 93 in one of their meetings. Mrs. Gettys openly admitted to speaking with Ross Richardson, Sheila Walker, Kevin Stilley and Brad Eidson prior to confronting me at the meeting, which is a violation of the Sunshine Law. Mrs. Gettys did not include Mike Weakly and Sam Kelley in her rolling quorum.

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2 Comments

  1. What do you bet, before this is over the legal fees to the city far exceed the amount and dispute?

  2. You all are an embarassment to this community. Quit your squabbling (at taxpayer expense) and get back to SERVING the members of this community as you were elected to do.

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