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Berkeley Co. changes way claims are handled

September 22, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Unemployment and workers compensation claims filed by Berkeley County employees will be handled by the government's relatively new human resources department in a move County Commission President Howard L. Strauss said Thursday was a "proactive" decision to save money.

County Clerk John W. Small Jr., whose financing and purchasing department had handled the process until the commission's decision Thursday, refuted assertions by Strauss that appeals of such claims had not been handled in a timely manner in the past.

The decision to assign the claim responsibility to Human Resources Director Alan J. Davis came after an executive session held by the commission Thursday.

"I knew nothing about this executive session they were going to have today," said Small, describing the unexpected restructuring as "unfair to smooth operation of county government."

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He also questioned whether the commission was "overstepping their bounds" by essentially bypassing his office's state constitution-given role in county government.

Small said he had talked with an attorney, but didn't have any comment as to whether he would file a lawsuit.

Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley said after the meeting that commissioners were ultimately responsible for how unemployment and workers compensation claims were handled.

"There's no consistency in the way they're done," Bentley said.

Marsha L. Kelley, director of the Financing and Purchasing department, defended the work of her staff, noting claim reports were forwarded to County Administrator Deborah Hammond's office within at least two days after they were filed, if not more quickly.

"We certainly didn't let them sit here for any length of time," Kelley said.

Since assuming the post in August 2002, Kelley said her office had not appealed any of the unemployment claims filed, but could not say whether the commission had taken any such action. Any appeal of a workers compensation claim was not immediately clear to her, either, and she deferred inquiry of such action to Hammond.

The decision to place Davis in charge comes little more than three weeks after Small notified the commission that he tapped payroll clerk Renee Hudson to be the county's main contact with BrickStreet Insurance to process workers compensation claims.

Small's decision was in response to a memo he received from the West Virginia Association of Counties, urging county leaders across the state to eliminate the lag time between an employee's injury and the reporting of it to BrickStreet. Counties were averaging 22 days, according to the memo.

Davis was hired in August 2005, making him possibly the first and only county human resources director in West Virginia, Strauss and Hammond said after the meeting.

In other personnel matters, Davis on Thursday gained the Commission's approval to delay four requests to reclassify positions until the annual budgeting process in the coming months. The reclassifications would have cost the county an additional $9,929 compensation divided between Voters Registration Supervisor Bonnie Woodfall, appraiser Larry Hess, inspector Paul Cain and planner Megan Clark.

"I think they're very deserving," County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said. "I think we can make this up to these individuals."

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