Did Greenport trustees use insurance stance for own benefit?

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Greenport Village Board candidates Mary Bess Phillips (from left), Julia Robins and William Swiskey at a debate sponsored by The Suffolk Times in March. Mr. Swiskey says he feels statements his opponents made regarding health benefits cost him the election.

Despite indicating otherwise during their campaigns this past March, Greenport trustees Mary Bess Phillips and Julia Robins have both signed up for health care benefits through the village, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

The practice of offering health care benefits to part-time trustees has been a long-standing source of contention in Greenport. It was one of most hotly debated issues in the March election.

William Swiskey — a candidate in that election who lost his bid for an open seat on the Village Board to Ms. Robins by just 18 votes and finished 43 votes behind Ms. Phillips — said he believes his opponents initially promised not to take those benefits and that it cost him the election.

“It made a huge difference in the outcome,” Mr. Swiskey said this week. “To me, with what they implied, they broke their promise.”

While Ms. Phillips stated directly that she didn’t believe she would sign up for benefits, Ms. Robins declined to say either way during a debate hosted by The Suffolk Times.

At the time, Ms. Robins said she wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the subject of village benefits to make a knowledgeable statement. Ms. Phillips, an incumbent, noted that she hadn’t taken the village’s health insurance during her previous term.

But on April 1, less than two weeks after the election, she began receiving the benefits, according to the documents obtained from the Village.

“My situation has changed,” Ms. Phillips said Monday. “I took the health insurance.”

As the owner of Alice’s Fish Market on Atlantic Avenue, Ms. Phillips said she previously received insurance through her company. But the market no longer has enough employees to meet the quota mandated to obtain small business insurance, she said.

“Everyone in the village knows the market is in a state of transition,” she said. “My plans could change again next year.”

All four Greenport trustees currently receive health benefits through the village program. The benefits are equivalent to more than $20,000 annually for each trustee, according to the documents.

Mr. Swiskey already receives village benefits and collects a pension from his service as the village’s former utilities director.

He believes there’s a difference between full-time employees receiving benefits and part-time elected officials, who can get benefits through their own business.

“I don’t think anybody who works 20 hours per month deserves benefits,” Mr. Swiskey said.

Ms. Phillips said she treats her role as trustee as a full-time job.

“Mr. Swiskey is full of rumors and innuendo,” she said. “It wasn’t health insurance that cost him the election.”

Ms. Robins, who also enrolled in the benefits program April 1, did not return a phone message seeking comment for this story.

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