Outgoing sheriff is offered "extended benefits"
Four members of Laurens County Council this week extended an offer of retiree status to outgoing sheriff Ricky Chastain.
Chastain has “declined the offer” of extended benefits, according to a council member opposed to the arrangement.
Coming back into open session following a “legal briefing, personnel matter” executive session Tuesday night, council voted 4-3 to give extended insurance benefits to Chastain for two years. It was understood that Chastain would pay to stay on Laurens County’s insurance.
Chastain said in a letter to constituents earlier this month that he would “be retiring” from the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 3. His family is moving to Clinton and he is starting a business.
The Jan. 3 date is when new sheriff Don Reynolds will be sworn in. He defeated Chastain in the June Republican primary and defeated Stephane Williams, a Chastain-backed petition candidate, in the November General Election.
The county council’s closed session came at the end of a 3 1/2-hour meeting Dec. 13. It was not announced in advance that Chastain’s status as a “retiree” would be discussed behind closed doors. Council did discuss the fact that, currently, 35 retirees receive the benefit of county-paid health insurance for life.
The council’s Finance Committee will discuss whether or not Laurens County - running a $1 million annual budget deficit - can continue to afford offering that benefit. Council agreed Dec. 13 to eliminate this benefit for new hires.
After the executive session, a motion was made by Keith Tollison, seconded by Garrett McDaniel, to extend insurance benefits to Chastain. With Tollison, McDaniel, Joe Wood and Ted Nash voting “yes,” the motion gave to Chastain credit for 1 year and 6 days county service giving him the 28 years required to become a county retiree. Chastain served 4 terms as sheriff.
Council members Stewart Jones, Dianne Anderson and Dr. David Pitts voted “no.” Jones posted this statement on Facebook:
“It's unprecedented for elected officials to give this option to another elected official and opens the door to Laurens County Council voting to give benefits to elected officials at will which is dangerous. My feeling is that Laurens County Council overstepped the voters by doing this. Legally, council can do this for employees, but not elected officials.”
Many responders agreed, the thread generated 43 comments. LCSO Major Joe Tyson, who is retiring as administrator of the Johnson Detention Center, asked Jones a question about how county retirees are supposed to afford health insurance on the open market; Jones said he would check into that.
Laurens County administration has developed a new, 80-page Employees Handbook that spells out county benefits and policies.
The handbook received council approval Dec. 13, but no change was made to free health insurance for life for current county retirees, or current employees who will retire in the future (retirees pay the premium to cover spouses and children on the county policy).
When the retiree reaches Medicare eligibility age, he/she is required to apply for Medicare, and the county pays the retiree’s Medicare Supplement Insurance.
Jones posted on Facebook Thursday that Chastain has declined to accept the majority of county council’s offer of retiree status “extended benefits” for life.
In the Dec. 21& 28 and Jan. 4, 2017 issues, The Clinton Chronicle will have a 5-story package from the Laurens County Council’s Dec. 13 meeting, and an extensive interview with in-coming Sheriff Don Reynolds.