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18 former Berkeley Co. employees on insurance

May 15, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- A former Berkeley County employee who died in August 2009 still was on the county's group life insurance rolls as recently as last month, officials said Friday.

The oversight was discovered in April by the finance division of Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr.'s office amid an internal review of insurance records, Deputy County Clerk Marsha Kelley said.

The situation surfaced after officials said last month they had taken steps to remove former Berkeley County Commissioner Howard L. Strauss from the county's health insurance rolls.

Strauss left office in December 2006, but was allowed to stay enrolled in the county's group health insurance plan, a violation of state and federal law, Norwood Bentley III, the county commission's legal counsel, has said.

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On Thursday, Alan J. Davis, the county's deputy administrator, proposed that the commission institute an internal control policy that would prohibit any employee or elected official from continuing to participate in the county's various group insurance programs, including life insurance, after leaving county employment.

Davis noted that 18 former employees, including former county commissioners Robert Burkhart, Wayne Dunham, James Smith and John Wright, still were on the county's group life insurance as inactive participants. The late George F. Potter II, who died in August, also was an inactive participant as a former county employee, Bentley said Friday.

Davis recommended that the county terminate the life insurance for the 18 employees on July 1 to give them time to convert their group coverage to an individual policy.

"These individuals, though not currently employed, benefit from a very attractive group life insurance rate that may not typically be available to the public," Davis said in a memo to the commission.

Bentley told the commission Thursday that his primary concern was whether any of the 18 former employees who are taking advantage of the life insurance benefit actually were ineligible because they did not retire.

Davis told the commission that he believed only one former employee on the list, who recently left the county payroll, was not eligible, but commissioners asked that he revisit his findings after reviewing the list.

Bentley said it wasn't clear to him that the extension of the life insurance benefit ever was authorized by the county commission for retired employees.

"It apparently started happening years and years ago and no one ever questioned it," Bentley said. "I don't know how it happened."

As for Strauss continuing his health insurance, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Thursday that the commission in 2006 did not have a full-time legal counsel to review the legality of the decision. The county's prosecuting attorney, according to state code, is available to the commission for legal advice.

Hammond, who signed off ledger sheets that listed Strauss' payments after he left office, said the former commissioner had discussed continuing his enrollment with the county's health insurance plan with the county's agent.

"There appeared to be no conflict as there was no written policy prohibiting it," Hammond said of the decision.

At the time Strauss left office, Bentley was retained on a part-time basis and Hammond said the commission did not have the benefit of having a legal review of every decision. She said the commission was paying $150 per hour for legal services prior to having in-house counsel.

Given the spate of insurance concerns, Bentley said he is recommending that the county clerk's office assume full responsibility for managing day-to-day insurance matters and limit the county commission office's involvement to negotiating new contracts. The commission office currently takes the lead role in managing the county's insurance programs.

"I think we would be better served if it would be consolidated ... one office needs to pay very close attention to it," Bentley said.

Kelley said there have been ongoing concerns about the county's insurance programs because "more (money was) going out than what was coming in."

"That's been going on for quite some time," Kelley said.

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