Grandinetti Opt Out, Take Back Shows Mendacity
By Frank Parlato
The Niagara Falls Reporter has learned that Council Member Kristen Grandinetti has made restitution on her falsely paid opt out payments to the city of Niagara Falls and, despite trying to get her fellow council members to stop taking them on moral principles, she is once again taking them herself.
In what is certainly characteristic hypocrisy, Grandinetti, who is running for reelection this year and faces a four way Democratic primary for three open seats, has once again showed why she is in politics.
To help herself.
First a word of explanation before we delve into a story that will in a nutshell define this council member.
All City of Niagara Falls employees who are already covered by the health insurance from another job qualify for a "bonus" - if they "opt out" of the city's health insurance coverage.
And it was back in December 2011 that The Niagara Falls Reporter first reported how Grandinetti was being overpaid on her city health insurance opt-out payment. She got $6,186 more in 2011 than she was legally allowed and she was set to receive another similar overpayment for 2012.
Grandinetti is a school teacher and has health insurance provided by the Niagara Falls School District.
Nevertheless, she took $9,713 from the city for opting out of a family plan health insurance policy. The problem is she was only qualified for a single plan, and an opt-out payment of $3,527.
Of course once we broke the story, she pretended to be shocked.
"I was very surprised when I found out about it," Grandinetti said at the time, "I'm upset and concerned that people would think I would do something like this purposely."
So here it was: A member of the city council was overpaid by more than $500 per month but didn't realize it?
Over a period of 22 weeks, Grandinetti received family plan opt-out payments of $404.71; she should have received $146.96 per pay period.
And she knew nothing?
As local Republican leader Robert Krause said, "This is either incompetence or malfeasance and I want to know which it is."
There was another curious matter here.
Grandinetti had choices, and she had to make them in order for her to get the opt out money from the city.
Grandinetti could have taken an opt out payment from the school district where she works. She had two options available. Wouldn't an intelligent person study both to learn which paid better?
Grandinetti claims she didn't check even though the School District paid less.
The Niagara Falls School District has a lower opt out payment than the city.
She chose to take health insurance from the School District and the opt-out payment from the city.
Then when she was caught she claimed she didn't know how much she was supposed to get from the city.
There was another problem. In 2011, Grandinetti actually voted on the union contract for city employees that spells out the details of the opt out payments.
It said right in the contract that Grandinetti voted on that, single people get only $3,527 year. She voted on that contract at the very time when she was getting $9,713 in bi-weekly payments of $407.
In any event, after the Reporter published the story of the confused and curiously overpaid councilwoman, the local media pounced on it.
Grandinetti spinning furiously told Channel 2 News that she was unaware of the "mistake," and as soon as she found out, she set up a plan to pay back the money. She didn't say what that plan was.
What was the plan?
Did she take the money out of her savings account and pay the city back the more than $6,000 she unrightfully took?
Did she borrow the money from her family or from a bank?
The arrangement she referred to was simply to let the taxpayers front her a interest free loan.
The arrangement she made with the city was to stop taking her new opt out payments until the city collected the money she was overpaid.
It would take more than a year and half for her to make restitution.
Now had the story ended here, one might think it was just a case of someone getting caught with her fingers in the cookie jar.
But with the same cunning that motivated her to take more than she was entitled to, Grandinetti moved to have the public think she was pure on the whole subject of opt out payments.
In October, 2012, while Grandinetti was using her new opt out payments to pay back her old overpayment, Grandinetti sponsored a council resolution to eliminate all opt-out payments for council members, including herself, effective January 1, 2013.
She said her resolution had nothing to do with her old, previous "mistake."
Her overpayment, she said "has absolutely nothing to do with (this resolution).
That was a clerical error; that is something that is being taken care of. It has to do with the fact that we can save $22,000," she said.
Grandinetti would forgo $3,526 in 2013, she said. And she wanted two other council members, Sam Fruscione and Glenn Choolokian, both with family plans, to forgo their opt out payments.
"The reason I filed the resolution is because were in dire straits now and, in my opinion, every little bit will help," she said.
"It would show the public that we are willing to take a hit, just as we're asking other people to do, during this financial crisis."
"It wasn't to assuage my guilt in anyway, Grandinetti said. "I didn't do anything wrong. I was just trying to participate in the process... We need to show the public that everyone is willing to take a hit financially..."
Council Member Sam Fruscione saw through it. "She's trying to redeem herself for double dipping and not realizing it for an entire year," he said.
Grandinetti's measure failed. She was the only council member to vote for the resolution. Each of four other council members voted against it.
She then cast her vote to support Mayor Paul Dyster's massive tax raise "disaster budget" that included an 8.3 percent tax hike on every home owner in the city and laid off 20 people.
Fruscione and the council majority however, cut more than $3 million in Dyster's budget and not only did they restore the 20 jobs, they slashed Dyster's tax hike to zero.
When Grandinetti was questioned by the Reporter at the time, she said that, even if her fellow council members did not vote to eliminate their opt out payments, she would refuse to take them for herself.
Noble, noble lady.
Well, it is ten months later and the reader must surely be wondering, did Grandinetti stop taking the opt out payments?
The answer is "no."
As of January 1, 2013, when her ban on opt outs payments would have taken effect, Grandinetti still owed $1,849.54 for her old overpayment and she certainly wasn't going to start paying that herself.
She went right on taking her opt out payments when the new year came and continued to do so, pay as it continued to pay off her overpayment.
But them June 28 came and with it the pay period where she finally paid off her opt out overpayment.
Ok, so she used the new opt out payments to pay off her old debt.
But now that she was clear, certainly Grandinetti would now stop taking the opt out payments she challenged the council to stop taking, the payments she told the world she should sacrifice to show they would also try to take a hit during these tight financial times.
You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Grandinetti did not stop collecting her opt out payments.
In fact she enjoyed her first full opt out payment check for $146. in July and has continued to collect them through August.
And if we know anything about the lady, she will continue to do for as long as she is a council member, which by all accounts will be about four more months.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com|| |
AUG 20, 2013