Tension rises in contentious debate over Macon-Bibb insurance broker

The+Macon-Bibb+County+Commission+spent+45+minutes+of+their+teleconference+meeting+Tuesday+undoing+last+week%27s+move+to+change+the+insurance+agent+of+record.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission spent 45 minutes of their teleconference meeting Tuesday undoing last week's move to change the insurance agent of record.

Confusion over changing Macon-Bibb County’s insurance agent led to accusations of lying and providing misleading information to commissioners.

During Tuesday’s Macon-Bibb County Commission meeting, some commissioners indicated they felt duped by Mayor Robert Reichert in voting to change the “broker of record” for the county’s insurance policies.

On April 28, Reichert “wanted to loop in all the commissioners” about an independent review of the county’s insurance coverage in an effort to save money.

Mark Johnson, of Creative Benefit Solutions near Birmingham, Ala., first started working with Macon-Bibb when Terminus Municipal Advisors was hired to explore cost-saving health care insurance in 2016.

Johnson, under the previous working agreement, assembled a team to examine the workers’ compensation policy and other coverage at no additional cost, County Manager Keith Moffett pointed out.

Reichert told commissioners Johnson needed to become the agent of record to “access information” and come up with recommendations the commission could later act on.

Johnson told the commission the review found “several gaps in the policies you have we think we can solve for you,” but needed the authority to solicit bids on the county’s behalf.

Although Reichert didn’t think the commission needed to take official action last week, Commissioner Elaine Lucas suggested the commission pass a resolution authorizing the mayor to send the letter, which they did.

That letter removed Mike Kaplan, agency executive of McGriff Insurance in Macon, as the broker of record – a position he’s held since the early 80s.

“We weren’t even given a chance to defend ourself and the commission voted to fire us effective as of May 1,” Kaplan told the commission. “We’ve been good stewards in this community. I employ hundreds of people in this community.”

Kaplan said Johnson misrepresented the county’s current policies. Kaplan also disagreed with the interpretation that the county’s workers’ compensation policy has a $1.5 million coverage gap for first responders and that the county is exposed to cyber liability.

Commissioners Valerie Wynn, Mallory Jones, Larry Schlesinger and Mayor Pro Tem Al Tillman all said they did not realize they were voting, in effect, to remove Kaplan who was blindsided by the effort.

“I won’t say it’s unethical, but I’d say at the very least it’s very discourteous. You don’t treat people that way,” Jones told the mayor. “We’ve been misled, terribly so, and that’s not in the best interest of the citizen taxpayers of Macon-Bibb County.”

“I resent the fact that you think I may have deliberately or intentionally misled anybody,” answered Reichert, who admitted he wasn’t an expert on insurance but thought it was good to discuss the current policies in an effort to save money.

Schlesinger said insurance agents he’s talked to said being a broker of record is not necessary to do a comprehensive review of the county’s policies.

“We were lied to, plain and simple,” Schlesinger said.

“That’s inflammatory,” Reichert interjected.

Schlesinger sponsored the resolution to rescind the letter giving Johnson’s group the authority to solicit proposals on the county’s behalf.

Johnson reiterated that if the letter is taken back, they cannot move forward in trying to find solutions for issues discovered in the evaluation.

“We cannot get any quotes or deal with their existing market that you have today to negotiate anything,” Johnson said. “To do a full market search to make certain that you have all markets covered, you need to have a trusted source that you go to.”

Commissioner Virgil Watkins recognized Johnson’s contributions to the Terminus effort to save Macon-Bibb County millions of dollars a few years ago.

“I’ve gotten to the point I do trust their recommendations for our financial matters,” Watkins said. “I think if we went through with their recommendations it would save us money.”

After about 45 minutes of discussion, the commission split 4-4 in the vote to rescind the letter with commissioners Bert Bivins, Lucas, Tillman and Watkins voting against and Joe Allen, Jones, Schlesinger and Wynn voting for it.

Reichert voted to break the tie by agreeing to rescind the letter and “punt this to a new commission,” which led Tillman to request permission to comment.

“No sir, we’re trying to get onto another meeting,” Reichert responded.

The lengthy and often contentious discussion in the pre-commission meeting delayed the regular commission meeting by more than 30 minutes.

Tillman spoke the mayor anyway: “That was a sorry excuse and reason to carry us through that. If you were going to do that you could have done that from the beginning.”

Before adjourning, a stern Reichert turned his attention to Kaplan, who gave local leaders an earful after hearing second-hand from insurance companies that he had been removed.

“I’m going to call on Kaplan to take a different attitude about how he’s been treated. I’m going to call on him to do his dead level best to save us money, to get the quotes to take into account some of these things that have been brought to your attention.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]