2008-05-24 / Editorials & Letters

Bowling Green 'watchdog' finds little sunshine

Editor:

In my last letter, I discussed the Medicare reimbursement check, the health insurance and total compensation package issues for Bowling Green Township Trustees. This time I want to focus on how our township GOB's discuss these sort of issues.

Ohio law requires that all public business be fully deliberated in a public forum. That simply means it has to be done in an announced open public meeting. If you want more details just search for "Ohio Sunshine Laws" on the internet.

Once I became more involved in local government, I started to pay more attention to how things are being done, or as in our case, how things are being kept hidden. A good example of this is the whole issue of health insurance and Medicare reimbursement. These expenditures eat up a large portion of our township's budget, but for the last few years I have heard very little discussion at the public table about these issues. I did hear a lot of driffle about "we don't blow money needlessly" and "we don't have money for that" or "we are the poorest township on the county" etc. But had it not been for "Mr. Watchdog" digging around, asking questions and formally requesting documents, I would bet 99% of township residents would not have any idea what is going on. the people would not even be aw

Now since some people might think I'm too harsh and negative, I will first compliment Jersey Township, another Licking County township. They actually advertised a "special" public meeting, just to discuss health insurance recently. I attended and came away very pleased with their efforts to "openly" work towards lowering their costs. One of the trustees actually requested a representative from the Ohio Public Entity Consortium (a non-profit organization that groups small and medium entities to negotiate cost discounts and benefit packages) come to discuss ways to obtain cheaper insurance coverage. They even had a formal "vote" on whether to allow the representative from the Ohio Insurance Services Agency to follow through and provide them with the data. What a novel idea!

In our case, our local GOB`s would rather not even discuss this issue in any regular or organizational meeting. The most you normally hear is at the annual organizational meeting, where you hear "lets keep it as it was," but no details are shared or discussed.

Last year, after our fiscal officertold trustees that the cost is going up about $500 a month, due to one of the trustees' age (yes, age is a major factor in insurance costs) is when I really started think about this issue and asked more questions. What happened next was quite amazing! Our fiscal officertook it upon herself to just switch insurance carriers in mid year! When you look at the dollars alone, this was actually a good move and in my opinion should have been done much sooner. But my beef is that there were no public discussion about the pros and cons, let alone a formal vote on this issue. One has to wonder how the fiscal officeralone can take this action, without any sort of deliberations or any formal vote at the public table?

When I inquired, I was told was that "the insurance is exactly the same, except for the cost." Basically I guess they believe that this then allows action to be taken without any sort of public discussion, let alone a formal vote by the trustees. Mind you, we are talking about "changing a contract" with a company that provides a service to all township officials. I have written a letter to trustees about this issue; it can be seen on the township website (www. bowlinggreentownship.com). But as usual, there still hasn't been any public discussion about this at the table yet. If it were not for Trustee Chorpenning, my letter likely would have never even been read and obviously not placed on the website for anyone to read.

What makes this even more amazing is that months after this change was made, I requested copies of the specific health plan package brochures, so as to verify the "exactly the same" comment. But the documents were not available. It took several more months and written requests, to finally get a copy of the "new" plan brochure. That one had Trustee Chorpenning's name on the last page. I asked him if he had ever gotten his copy; he told me that he had just received it. At this time it was over eight months since the insurance coverage was changed! So let's see, the fiscal officerdecides to make a change in contract, which affects all officials. There is essentially no public deliberation and at least one of the trustees was not even provided with the plan brochure (which is the contract & spells out the actual benefit details) until I staredt to ask for plan documents many months later!

So ask yourself, is this the sort of OPEN government you expect to have? There are many more instances of issues that were never discussed in an open meeting, which is a clear violation of the law. I plan on detailing some of these in future letters, so stay tuned. Will Kern Bowling Green Township

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