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UPDATED: Sullivan County employees to see $8 per month increase in insurance costs

J. H. Osborne • Sep 22, 2017 at 10:10 PM

UPDATED: Kilgore apologizes to Bowery for “get another job” comment.

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Commissioner Bill Kilgore has apologized to fellow Commissioner Mark Bowery for a comment made during a called meeting of the Sullivan County Commission’s Insurance Committee last week. And Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street has confirmed Bowery correctly interpreted a 2-1 vote (from a eight-member committee with only 4 members present and only three voting) as a valid margin for approval of an issue. 

Bowery is chairman of the committee, which when it met on Sept. 12 had only four of seven current members present — including Bowery. The committee is down one member due to the resignation earlier this year of Robert White and the lack of a designated replacement.

The group’s main purpose for meeting on the 12th was to develop a recommendation for how to fund an 11 percent increase in the county’s employee healthcare plan for calendar year 2018. The county contracts with the state of Tennessee’s employee health plan and the 11 percent increase is by state edict.

The committee ultimately considered switching the percentage on how insurance premiums are split between the county and covered employees, from what used to be 87.5/12.5 (county/employee) to 86/14.

When it came for a vote, two members clearly voted “yes,” and one clearly voted “no.” At first it was announced the motion failed. But then it was said it passed. Several people in the room thought Bowery had cast a vote. Committee chairmen typically do not vote, except in case of a tie — and even then some don’t.

Bowery later clarified to the Times-News he did not vote and he was not in favor of the change.

The committee met in called session again on Sept. 18, causing a recess of the full commission — which was expected to vote on the committee’s recommendation that day.

During that meeting a whole new funding plan was revealed and ultimately adopted. But first, there was some discussion of just what the committee had recommended at the Sept. 12 meeting when only four members were present. Kilgore questioned how anything considered to have carried with only two members voting “yes.” Bowery said he had done his best to conduct the meeting and believed having four people present was a quorum and as for the 2-1 vote he’d thought that constituted a simple majority of present and voting members and therefore was valid — and he hadn’t had anyone to turn to at the time for procedural advice.

That’s when Kilgore told Bowery that if he couldn’t figure it out for himself perhaps he should find another job.

And that is the comment Kilgore apologized to Bower for when they next met at a called commission meeting two days later.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Kilgore said to the Times-News after extending his apology to Bowery. “I was aggravated when I said it and I have apologized to Commissioner Bowery.”

Bowery told the Times-News he accepted Kilgore’s apology and has no hard feelings over the issue.

Street confirmed to the Times-News that he had reviewed the rules by which the commission and its committees function, and Bowery was correct in calling the 2-1 vote as a valid majority.

Street said that once a quorum is met, the meeting can proceed, and the rules state an affirmative majority is achieved simply when the “yes” votes outnumber the “no” votes among members who vote. Passes don’t count.

 

BLOUNTVILLE — If you read our story last week about the Sullivan County Commission’s Insurance Committee voting to recommend lowering the percentage of employee health insurance premiums paid by the county, boy, do we have some updates for you.

The committee did in fact present its thought-to-be recommendation of changing the cost-share from 87.5/12.5 to 86/14 to the full commission at a work session this past Thursday. But at that meeting, Commissioner Eddie Williams said there was talk toward trying to find a formula to make all employees pay about the same increase, across-the-board. Under the recommendation presented to the commission last week, some employees were going to see a relatively small increase, some were going to actually see some decreases, and some employees were going to see more significant increase. The differences were because of the different categories of coverage, from “individual” to “employee plus family.”

There were only four of seven members present when the committee had met earlier last week and voted on switching to the 86/14 split. And one of them was chairman Mark Bowery. The county, like many American governing bodies, operates its meetings according to parliamentary procedure outlined in “Robert’s Rules of Order.” County committee chairman have historically had the choice to either vote or not vote on committee action. With only four members present, County Mayor Richard Venable advised the group they had a quorum because the committee currently has only seven members (former Commissioner Robert White was a member and his spot has not been filled since his resignation earlier this year). When it came time to vote on the recommendation, Commissioner Cheryl Russell voted no. Two members clearly voted “yes.” That would have been 2-1 with the chairman (Bowery) not voting. At first it was announced the motion failed. But then Bowery questioned Venable about what constituted a majority for approval based on the number of members present. It was then announced the motion was approved and Russell alluded to Bowery, then, having voted with the other two.

But on Monday morning Bowery told the Times-News he did no such thing. Asked if that meant he simply didn’t vote or if he was not in favor of the recommendation, he said he did not vote and he was in fact not in favor of the recommendation. The Times-News asked why, then, did the recommendation go to the full county commission with only two voting in favor. Bowery said as he had understood it, 2-1 was a majority of those present and voting and therefore it was valid.

The county commission, expecting to vote on the insurance issue so employees can begin to enroll for coverage next week, went into a sudden recess to allow the insurance committee to have a called meeting in the side room. Inside that room a whole new plan was introduced, one in which all employees — no matter the category of coverage (”individual” through “employee plus family”) will pay $8 more per month. Also in that room, Bowery was questioned by other committee members about whether or not a 2-1 vote should have been considered a go situation. When Bowery said he’d not had anyone present, such as the county attorney to advise him on the rules of procedure, Commissioner Bill Kilgore told him if he couldn’t figure it out himself he should perhaps find another job.

It was also revealed in that room that the county’s cost for the current calendar year hasn’t actually been based on the 87.5/12.5 split. When the county switched from self-insured to the state’s insurance plan last year, the employees’ share was based on the 12.5 percent. But due to some changes, the county was actually paying more than 87.5 percent. That’s why the state’s 11 percent hike for coverage this year was resulting in some employees paying more and others paying less — those figures were based on going back to the 87.5/12.5 split, or the 86/14 split recommended by the committee last week (on that 2-1 vote). Switching to having all employees pay $8 more per month means the county no longer is following a percentage split. But the portion of an employee’s premium paid by the county will continue to be based on the plan’s basic option.

Russell, as she did last week, spoke adamantly against passing along any more of the overall cost of insurance to employees — pointing out it was going to be like giving them a raise (which the county’s recently-approved budget does) and then taking it back. Others on the committee, however, said the $8 per month is minimal (”pocket change” according to Kilgore) and the larger issue is keeping the cost down for county taxpayers (who are facing an 8.5-cent property tax rate, by county commission vote). In the end, Russell cast the only “no” vote and the $8-per-month increase for all employees became the committee’s official recommendation.

It later gained commission approval, after some at-times confusing debate and discussion, by a vote of 19 “yes,” three “no” (Pat Shull, Angie Stanley, and Russell), one abstain (Michael Cole, who later told the Times-News he just didn’t feel informed enough about it to cast a vote either way) and one absent (Terry Harkleroad).

So, if you’re a county employee on the county’s health insurance plan, here’s what you’ll be paying (based, at least, on what the commission voted on): employee only, $73.26 per month; employee plus children $132 per month; employee plus spouse, $145.04 per month; and employee plus family, $203.78 per month.

And if you’re a county taxpayer, here’s how it will play into the county’s budget: the 11 percent increase raises the annual cost to the county to $5,982,380 — and increase of $582,816 over the $5,399,564 the county paid for this calendar year.

The total cost of coverage, including the $1,010,716 paid by the 620 employees enrolled in the plan, is $6,993,096.

The $8 amount was designed to give the county the same savings (about $60,000) as the last-week-recommended switch to an 86/14 percentage split.

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