The Alice City Council voted unanimously to order an election for May 2009, where citizens could vote for or against the proposition for collective bargaining, which was brought to the city by Alice police officers and firefighters this summer through petition.

The proposition reads, “Adoption of the state law applicable to fire fighters and police officers that establishes collective bargaining if a majority of the affected employees favor representation by an employees association, preserves the prohibition against strikes and lockouts, and provides penalties for strikes and lockouts.”

The item was originally on the agenda for the Aug. 28 meeting, which was cancelled.

Alice City Attorney Joe Torres III said even if the meeting had taken place, and the item approved, the regularly scheduled meeting date was two days after the deadline for a possible November election.

Alice City Manager Raynaldo De Los Santos Jr. said the city saved $25,000 by having the election in May, which is the amount it would have cost the city to have a November election.

The city council faces election along with the Alice ISD school board in May 2009. If the proposition is approved next May, city officials said it would become effective in November 2009.

The city council also had a decision to make as far as appointing an employer group health benefits service representative for Fiscal Year 2008-2009. James Villarreal and Pedro Jasso have served as insurance agents for the city the last four years. The city considered two other bids, that of Carlisle Insurance and the team of Manuel Esparza and Oscar Campos.

Council members asked Assistant City Manager Hector Hinojosa for his recommendations.

Hinojosa cited problems that staff had when it came to reconciling accounts with Humana under Villarreal two years ago.

“The finance department was frustrated with the discrepancies,” Hinojosa said. “We want to pay bills that are correct.”

The alleged difficulties with late billing and other issues led the finance department to move to reclaim the paperwork processing this year, which has led to improvement in the billing, Hinojosa said.

With those problems on the forefront of his mind, Hinojosa recommended going with Esparza and Campos as the agents of record for the city, and stated he would rather see the agents do the billing themselves. 

City Councilwoman Dorella Elizondo said reconciling accounts was not an issue for the agent, and said the problem was a human resources issue and not a finance department issue or agent issue with Villarreal.   

“Reconciliation and accounting are issues having to do with accounting, that has nothing to do with HR, these are accounting issues,” Elizondo said.

“It’s not an agent’s job to reconcile an account, it’s their job to help term an employee, but as far as taking the people off the list of those getting the invoice, that’s an accounting issue, and I don’t know how many times I stress this, but I don’t know how we keep getting these things mixed up.” 

After further discussions, council members voted 3-1 in favor of Esparza and Campos, with Elizondo voting against.

Also on the agenda, council members considered insurance comparisons as presented by City Manager De Los Santos. His recommendations of United Health Care for dental, and Humana for life and vision insurance were readily accepted.

De Los Santos explained that for health insurance, going with Blue Cross/Blue Shield would be a savings for the city in excess of $89,000, which could in turn be used, if the council decided to go in that direction, to further reduce employees’ monthly premiums. Blue Cross/Blue Shield came with deductions of $1,000 and $2,500.

Councilman John Lemon said he was looking for a lower deductible for city employees, which he felt the city could afford.

De Los Santos said staff worked with the numbers as presented in the bids, which reflected what the council requested.

City council members said the problem was that they did not set the parameters to consider the lower deductible.

“Well then, I think we screwed up,” Lemon said.

Councilman Leo Escobar then said the $1,000 deduction was chosen by the most employees and resulted in a savings for the city. 

“When all you eat is dirt, you think it’s caviar,” Lemon said.

“No sir, no sir,” Escobar said.

“Yes sir, yes sir,” Lemon said. “I think we would all like a $500 deductible. I don’t think it will bust the city. I’ll vote against it if all we have is a PPO $1,000 and PPO $2,500.”

Which he did, in a vote of 3-1, with Lemon against.