We met with former Assistant District Attorney Greg Jacobs Thursday, and he told us that a group of retired Sonoma County workers are so angry about the county’s recent decision to cut health benefits that they plan to take legal action.

They plan to sue the county, claiming that they had an implied contract that was breached and a “vested right” to health insurance. They may first seek a court injunction to stop the cuts from taking effect.

The retirees voted on the matter Tuesday night. Currently, they have 85 percent of their health insurance covered. But because those cost have soared, the Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to cut their benefits to a flat $500 a month. The supervisors say they had no choice. They needed to deal with a projected $450 million in unfunded retirement liabilities over the next 30 years.

The cuts apply to current managers as well. But there’s one key difference that has the retirees upset. Managers will be given a $600-a-month differential, ostensibly to make up for the cut in health benefits. Retirees were once told that they would get the same benefits as current managers, but they aren’t getting the $600.

“The board has been paying us the same as managers for 20 years,” said Jacobs. But now there’s this difference, and it really has retirees ticked off.

The retirees include many former top executives including former Auditor-Controller Tom Ford who have dealt with these kinds of issues for a long time. They say they’re discouraged about how they’ve been treated and haven’t been allowed to take part in exploring alternative solutions.

“I’ve never seen this much ill will between the county and the employees before,” said Jacobs, who retired in 2005 after working for the county since 1974.

– Paul Gullixson