Meck County retirees consider suing county over withdrawn benefits

CHARLOTTE — Retirees in Mecklenburg County are set to deal with astronomical increases to their monthly insurance costs. Now, they considering the county over the issue.

“Retirees have spent [Wednesday] on numerous phone calls and text exchanges considering options after last night’s Board meeting,” said Brian Cox with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Retirees Association. “Each conversation is accompanied by a sadness that County manager Diorio is pushing retirees into a corner where litigation even has to be discussed. This is why - retirees have pride in having served in the organization, much as one has pride in their hometown or alma mater. Obviously those were different times and the culture is different with today’s leadership.”

For six months, Channel 9 has been investigating a major change to retirees’ dependent coverage.


Former employees say an agreement regarding their coverage has been in place for four decades.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Madison Carter learned that will be changing.

For some, it means their payments could triple to cover their spouses and children’s care under the county’s insurance plans.

The measure is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2024, but open enrollment is less than a month away on Nov. 6, leaving several former employees scrambling.

A report from the county manager Tuesday night included several revelations Channel 9 has been working to learn since April.

The first is the county claims it was in 2017 that it started accidentally covering retirees’ families at the same subsidized rate it covers active families.

The second revelation is that the mistake was allegedly discovered while making the budgets for this year. It’s a question Carter has been asking since May but each time the county declined to share.

Both of those claims are being hotly contested by former employees who point to language from 1981 that Channel 9 reported on last week, which promises them the same rates as active employees.

“The rate that’s offered to actives is the same rate that is offered to retirees,” said Dena Diorio, county manager. “The difference is the rate that’s offered to actives is subsidized by Mecklenburg County. They’re not the same and they were never the same.”

County Human Relations Director Keisha Young clarified the difference between “group rates” and “cost sharing”, which seemed to be the point of contention.

Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, District 6, worked to gain clarity for constituents on that issue.

“I don’t know. Is it semantics that we didn’t use to have a subsidy but now we do? When all along the intention was that active employees’ dependents and previously retirees’ dependents would have the same cost,” she said.

It appeared to come down to an issue of how the policy was written 40 years ago versus the intention of the policymakers at that time.

Leon Miller is a former county employee who spoke on behalf of the group Tuesday night telling Channel 9 no one on the county manager’s staff was around in the 1980s when this topic was first on the table.

“The manager is entrenched in calling it a mistake when in fact there are people in the room who are part of this group... who all were a part of making that decision in 1981,” he said. “In 1981, the design, the intent, and the subsequent 40-plus year execution was to give the employees an opportunity to ensure their spouses and children, their dependents, at the same (cost) as active employees.”

Board chairman George Dunlap said intention does not matter, and the county manager must enforce what the written policy says.

“I want to be clear to the board: this is a policy the manager is required to follow,” he said. “Unless you’re prepared to change the policy, we won’t change anything. I don’t want anyone playing to the audience and making them think something might be different.”

VIDEO: Mecklenburg County retirees continue to fight for benefits they were promised

Madison Carter

Madison Carter, wsoctv.com

Madison is an investigative reporter and anchor for Channel 9.

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