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Supervisors get fired up during lawsuit review

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - Updated: 8:50 AM

By HEATHER NELLIS

For the C-S-E

FONDA -- Montgomery County supervisors clashed during a discussion about defense of a lawsuit involving its insurance trust at a Personnel Committee meeting Tuesday.

The discussion, which eventually moved into an executive session after an initial motion to close the meeting failed, was initiated by board Chairman and Root Supervisor John Thayer. He said the county should address how to respond to a claim filed by Benefits Marketing of Amsterdam.

The company served the county, the city of Amsterdam, its trust, and trust members the first week of April, alleging breach of contract. The company, and its proprietor Pasquale Baia, are seeking at least $1 million in damages.

Thayer said the supervisors had to address how the county will respond to the suit, noting officials are waiting to hear whether its insurance carrier will defend the county on the matter.

The problem with that, said county Attorney Douglas Landon, is the county has 20 days to respond to the suit, and that deadline is less than a week away. He said he's going to file an application for an extension with the plaintiff's attorney, Matthew C. Cocca of Albany.

"After receiving the summons and complaint on April 3, it was submitted to the insurance carrier, which responded and indicated it will dig and sift through records to make a determination on whether there is coverage for it," said Landon, adding the company expects to have an answer within two days.

The lawsuit says the trust entered into a three-year contract with Benefits Marketing on Jan. 1, 2012, and additionally referenced a contract with Matrix Quality Care.

The suit says the defendants entered into new contracts with Matrix on Jan. 1, and alleged it "had the intentional and unwarranted effect and purpose of excluding [Benefits Marketing] from receiving compensation as a third-party beneficiary for services it performed under the Matrix contract as originally agreed."

The city's and county's contention with health insurance contracts was well documented last year, prior to the Board of Supervisors' vote in February 2012 to dissolve the entity. That resolution additionally agreed to only keep the trust's contracts through the end of the year.

At the time of the controversy, the municipalities' respective attorneys said earlier they weren't given the opportunity to review contracts with Empire Blue Cross that were signed on the municipalities' behalf by then-trust board president and Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza.

Officials also questioned DiMezza's authority to sign the contracts for services, as a county resolution directs the board chairman to execute all contracts, and the city's charter directs the mayor to sign all agreements upon approval of the Common Council.

During an exchange at Tuesday's meeting, DiMezza said he had authority to sign the contracts, which St. Johnsville Supervisor Dominick Stagliano, a current trust board member, refuted.

"Prove it," DiMezza told Stagliano, then repeatedly calling him a "big mouth."

Stagliano replied: "We will."

Thayer indicated he may call a special meeting to further discuss the matter, expressing concern about the potential for arguments about it at Tuesday's scheduled full board meeting.

"I don't think it would be a good idea at a full board meeting, with relationships and attitudes coming into play," he said. "I'd rather not drag out a regular meeting."

The health insurance discussion was raised on the heels of a quarrel about a proposed retroactive policy, which prompted accusations of protecting the interests of a single county employee.

It was sponsored by Palatine Supervisor Brian Sweet and seconded by Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush. It calls for any non-bargaining, non-competitive and unclassified full-time employees to be entitled to their original, full-time hire date for the purposes of calculating earned vacation time, citing layoffs initiated in 2007 and 2011.

DiMezza, Amsterdam 4th Ward Supervisor Barbara Wheeler and 1st Ward Supervisor Vito "Butch" Greco expressed opposition to the resolution.

Greco questioned the length of time elapsed since such layoffs, noting his perception of protocol in the business community to be between 90 days and one year for such policies.

"This is wrong in every which way a person could think of -- for one individual," said DiMezza, while Wheeler alleged it was "borderline corruption."

The employee in question was not named during the meeting, but both Wheeler and DiMezza say the employee had been laid off on two separate occasions, and when re-hired in June, accepted a different position than held in the past.

Greco additionally questioned why the employee wouldn't have been notified about pay and benefits upon re-hire, and why the question wasn't raised at the time.

Quackenbush responded to the corruption allegation and refuted it.

"It happened to affect the person who brought it up, but it affects more than one person," he said. "These employees take a chance on the county, and give it years of their lives."

"As far as I'm concerned, vacation is a foot in the door, then they'll want the works -- longevity, back pay, and everything else," DiMezza said.

DiMezza and Stagliano then had an exchange, in which Stagliano said, "You think there hadn't been resolutions in the past for one person?"

"Bring them up, let's do it," DiMezza retorted, whereafter Committee Chairman and Florida Supervisor William Strevy banged the gavel and called for order.

The committee voted 4-3 to move the resolution to the full board.

     

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