Query Raised on Muise Vote for Insurance

Times Staff Writer

City Council member Sylvia Muise voted last year to improve insurance benefits for city employees, allowing them to add family members to their life insurance coverage.

Two weeks later, she signed up her cancer-stricken husband. After he died four months later, she collected $5,000.

Muise said she did nothing wrong. She acknowledged that she knew her husband had cancer when she signed up for the coverage, but said that at that time it had not been diagnosed as terminal.

Muise said she did not ask the city attorney whether the insurance vote would be a conflict of interest for her "because it is not a conflict of interest."

Doesn't Have Facts

City Atty. Glenn Watson said in an interview that he would not be able to give an opinion on possible conflict-of-interest issues concerning Muise's actions "because I don't have the facts."

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, queried by The Times about the situation, is reviewing Muise's role as a possible conflict of interest, according to Deputy. Dist. Atty. Candace Beason.

The state law on conflicts of interest bars officials from participation in governmental decision-making from which they stand to benefit. Officials faced with such decisions can abstain from the decision process. Or they can refrain from exercising the financial interests producing the conflict.

Muise acknowledged that the cancer, when first discovered in early 1985, had already spread to her husband's head and chest, but she said it had not been diagnosed as fatal when she voted on the change in coverage almost a year later.

Asked when she learned that her husband's case was terminal, she replied, "None of your damn business!"

A Muise ally on the council, Tom Mills, called The Times' inquiry into the matter "sickening" and "repulsive." In the interview, he added that he saw no reason for Muise to abstain from the vote or refrain from insuring her husband.

The vote on insurance took place Feb. 4, 1986, when Muise and other members of the council unanimously approved without debate an amendment to the city's labor agreement with its employees. The amendment permitted employees--including council members--to obtain life insurance for family members. The city paid $3.75 a month for coverage of Muise's husband.

Before the vote, spouses and other family members were not eligible for coverage under the city's insurance program, according to Mike Bell, the city's risk management specialist.

A memo to the City Council by City Administrator John Dangleis, written in response to The Times inquiry, noted that Muise had not answered several questions about existing conditions such as cancer, but the memo said the blanks did not need to be filled out because under terms of the city's group policy the $5,000 worth of coverage was automatic. A Pacific Standard representative confirmed that the coverage would have been automatic even if the cancer had been disclosed.

Leonard Muise died June 13, 1986, at age 49.

The insurance matter is the second connected with the death that has involved the council member in controversy.

In January, she was advised by the state Fair Political Practices Commission to abstain from council votes on matters affecting the city's catering service or the city's director of parks and recreation. Muise asked for the opinion after Howard Homan, the parks and recreation director, arranged a $2,200 post-funeral reception at her home with a meal provided by the catering service.

Muise said Homan had made the arrangements without consulting her.

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