By JOY BROWN
Two Findlay City Council members are balking at a recommended $50,000 insurance money transfer that the law director says will make it more convenient to pay claims, settlements and other legal costs.
Law Director Don Rasmussen said he expects more payout requirements for the rest of this year. He’s not sure how much those might total, but the fund that must be used to pay them has been emptied.
The transfer is included in an ordinance that received a first reading at City Council’s June 3 meeting.
1st Ward Councilwoman Holly Frische said she doesn’t think money should be set aside for costs that don’t yet exist.
“I can’t support something that you don’t have a need for yet,” Frische said she told Rasmussen.
“In review of previous years’ expenditures, the $50,000 for the second half of the year is excessive,” said Andy Douglas, 6th Ward councilman.
Claim expenditures within the past 20 years show no trends. The city spent as little as $1,636 in 2007, and as much as $164,671 in 1997.
The city typically budgets about $20,000 at the beginning of the year for such insurance liability costs, which can be as incidental as vehicle repair bills resulting from unfilled potholes. The allocation allows administrators to avoid having to ask council to appropriate money each time a payout is required.
But a federal civil rights case earlier this year that resulted in a $15,000 settlement and $13,187 in legal fees this spring drained the fund. The city settled with Carla Reeg regarding former police officer Shawn Nungester’s behavior during a routine assistance call at her home in 2012. In April, City Council agreed to a transfer within the self insurance account to make up the difference.
Rasmussen said he expects more costs this year, particularly from lawsuits involving two police officers.
The city is fighting an arbitration ruling that required Sgt. David Hill to be reinstated to the department at the rank and salary he previously held. The city attempted to fire him after he called a female officer a name that referred to prostitution. The female officer was scheduled to testify in a separate disciplinary hearing against Hill.
Findlay is involved in other pending cases, including a civil suit filed by Gary and Yvonne Bibler of Rawson. The Biblers are alleging the stop sign at the corner of Wilson and East Sandusky streets was obstructed on May 27, 2011, which caused another driver to not see it and hit Gary Bibler’s Ford F-15 pickup. The suit says he sustained back injuries.
The total of potential bills isn’t Rasmussen’s only concern.
He said he also doesn’t want to pay them without a purchase order, which might happen if the fund is empty and bills are due. Paying without a purchase order is something that various departments have done at times, and that council has complained about in recent years.
Rasmussen also doesn’t want the hassle of going to council each time a payment is required.
The transfer, he explained to council members in a May 28 email, is “so that I may pay claims if and when they become due. This will alleviate the need to request an appropriation each and every time a small claim is paid. I will still keep you informed of any and all pending suits, and will discuss same with you prior to any settlement.”
Such payments, including settlements, don’t have to be discussed publicly. In fact, council members and the administration discussed the Reeg settlement privately, and did not explain the self-insurance money transfer that was needed for it until a reporter asked them about it.
There is no particular reason that $50,000 was chosen as the requested total, said Rasmussen.
“I could’ve said $42,300. I put a number to it so the money hopefully pays these bills for the rest of the year. Hopefully we won’t have to spend a dime of it. I wish I had a crystal ball that said we’re not going to get sued anymore this year,” Rasmussen said.
Second Ward Councilman Randy Van Dyne, traditionally a proponent of this administration’s recommendations and decisions, gave Rasmussen his blessing to the transfer request.
“I still support the ‘speed of business approach’ and have no problem with your request, Don, as long as you keep us posted as to what you are using and for what purpose,” Van Dyne responded to Rasmussen’s May email. “We need to keep operations moving, in my opinion, and remove obstacles that bog down the process.”
“I am not against supporting the speed of business approach when appropriate, but the email stated for ‘if and when’ he may need it; so in my eyes there is no business to speed up,” Frische wrote in response to Van Dyne’s opinion.