Treasurer 's office under fire

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Treasurer's office again under fire
By Irene Van Winkle
West Kerr Current
October 27, 2005
 
   Kerr County Treasurer Barbara Nemec came under fire once again at Monday's Commissioners Court meeting, but her second in charge explained the delays in health benefit payments to the county's insurer. Her intent in speaking, she said afterwards, was to "let the public know the truth."
   "Taking full responsibility," Judy Carr, Nemec's deputy, read a lengthy statement regarding attempts to handle Mutual of Omaha's "termination notice" matter brought up by the county judge.
   Although a payment to the insurer had not been yet made ($45,192.93 for September and October, 2005 with November's looming), Carr said that she had been working with company representative Jaime Ochoa (who left the agency late last week) and was told to wait for adjusted billing.
   More than $6,200 in credits was at stake, mostly for premiums on long-gone county employees.
   Kerr County Judge Pat Tinley introduced the item, saying he had put it on the agenda after receiving a notification of "lapse" from Carey Malek, M. of O.'s group health sales executive in San Antonio, as well as memos from other insurance representatives.
   "(Malek's) letter stated that immediate steps would be taken to reinstate the county if the payment for the delinquent amount was received by Nov. 3, 2005," Tinley said.
   He added that since he placed the agenda item (on Thursday, Oct. 20) he received other related material.
   Regarding an e-mail from Carr which requested that county officials and staff "ignore" the item because had Tinley spoken with the treasurer's staff, it would not have been necessary to act on it, Tinley said her "prediction" was incorrect, and he would have still acted even before the "flurry" that occurred subsequent to his making the agenda request.
   Conceding that the court had no direct authority over the treasurer, or any elected official, Tinley also said, "I was left to wonder what, if anything, would have occurred if this had not been placed on the agenda." adding that he had a responsibility to county employees and taxpayers to bring such issues to light.
   He further said earlier billing problems, which Nemec had explained to the court, might also have gone unnoticed had he not been made aware of it by someone else.
   Tinley said he also was concerned that claims processing, coverage and stop-loss insurance was in jeopardy and that a lapse would be imminent, even that termination of benefits would have been effective Oct. 1.
   Carr told the court that the termination notice was "a complete surprise to Barbara Nemec and me," and that "ethical" companies did not terminate service without notice. Carr added that the notice was not final, but the first; and that on Friday morning, she had contacted Lynne Donnelley, Mutual of Omaha's Delinquency Coordinator, who told Carr that a final notice would have meant a payment was due within 48 hours before the policy was terminated.
   As it stood, Carr said Donnelley wrote that the treasurer's office was to communicate with her by Nov. 3 to avoid such a move. Donnelley wrote on Oct. 21 that reasons for the delinquency were unresolved billing issues; instructions by former agent Jaime Ochoa were to submit all changes of employee status, etc.  However, Carr said, that process didn't work, and employees terminated many months earlier were still on Mutual of Omaha's books.
   However, she and billing reps discussed developing an action plan to resolve those issues, getting full credit, and changing billing run dates each month to allow more time to resolve issues.
   Carr said Donnelley was surprised to learn that the county's agent, Wallace & Associates in Seguin, had contacted Tinley, and not Nemec's office, first regarding delays in payments.
   According to Carr, Donnelley spparently told Carr to await an adjusted bill.
   Carr ended by saying that recent stress problems related to her job have affected her mental and emotional health, and the treasurer's office as a whole, calling the frequent scrutiny a "personal political agenda toward Ms. Nemec."
   Asked by Pct. 2 Commissioner Bill Williams if a delay in changing employee status by insurers was typical, Malek told the court that a six-month lag in updating terminated employee records was not unusual given the large volume of clients the company handles.
   "A partial payment would have avoided a lot of this," Malek said. "You don't have to have a perfect bill ... (but)you can't not pay a bill just because you don't agree with it."
   However, he reassured the court that since he was satisfied that "the check's in the mail," the county's coverage was not terminated and for policy holders not to worry. Donnelley had informed Malek on Oct. 21 that both September and October payments were being sent to her "overnight" from the treasurer's offfice.
   Payment receipt was verified on Oct. 24, and Carr said that her office got termination notice in the mail Monday afternoon. "That really shows that Tinley jumped the gun," she added.
   Pct. 4 Commissioner Dave Nicholson, along with Tinley and other commissioners, was unimpressed, saying that for the present, "we averted a disaster. But are we getting satisfactory explanations? I think we're seeing a pattern in practices that monthly, there is some failure in the treasurer's office...
   "It is a pattern of unacceptable performance, but not of just one individual. It reflects badly on the performance of Kerr County government. We have issues of malfeasance that adversely affect our taxpayers."
   Pct. 3 Commissioner Jonathan Letz, and others, promised that an executive session would be held at a future meeting regarding employee performance.
   Carr, on the other hand, asked, "Why don't they come to us first?" referring to Tinley, Wallace and Associates and others. "Why didn't they ask us what they could do to help. If they had, we wouldn't have the judge jump the gun and go public with all this."
   Nemec, after the meeting, reacted to the outcome.
   "The Judge needs to start communicating with me instead of putting things like this on the agenda. Judy was just going by what Lynne and Jaime told her to do."
  

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