Liberty Township’s debate over a program that allows some employees to opt out of health insurance for cash payments is under study by the State Auditor’s Office legal department.
Meanwhile, Mark Gerber, the township’s former fiscal officer, says he is demanding an apology from Trustee Melanie Leneghan and the board for remarks Leneghan made at Tuesday night’s trustee meeting.
Current fiscal officer Nancy Denutte contend the opt-out practice is not legal, according to state law; Gerber insists the program is legal under current law.
Denutte says the program has cost the township $550,000 since 2010. Gerber says saved the township more than $400,000 in the last four years and more since the program started in 2010.
Trustees have scheduled a special session today to continue discussion on the opt-out program at 2 p.m. at township offices.
Denutte has made of an issue of the township’s program that allows some employees to opt out of health insurance and receive cash in lieu of insurance. The amount of the reimbursement currently is 50 percent of the township’s premium. The program is written into the contracts of two of the township’s employee unions.
“Compliance for the cash in lieu program under (Ohio Revised Code) 505.603(C), cash cannot exceed 25 percent of the premium,” Denutte said. “We did not put it under 505.603 (C).”
Denutte said the program had been set up improperly under Ohio law and is demanding that it ends immediately. “We are really non-compliant,” Denutte said. “We need to cease payment immediately, according to (a legal) opinion, because we are against the law.”
The State Auditor’s Office is currently reviewing the legality of the township’s opt-out program. “The section of code is right,” said a spokesman from the State Auditor’s Office on Thursday. “Conceivable circumstances could have allowed it.”
Gerber told the board Tuesday an attorney had looked over the program before trustees adopted it in December 2009. “It was declared perfectly legal,” he said.
In a letter to the editor that will be published in Monday’s Gazette, Gerber said Leneghan had “rudely disrespected and slandered him” at the conclusion of his remarks at Tuesday’s trustee meeting.
“I demand a public apology from the board of trustees and, separately, an apology from Leneghan,” Gerber said in the letter.
At the meeting, Leneghan said: “I don’t believe a word he said. He’s a master manipulator. He’s a liar.”
When contacted by The Gazette Thursday about Gerber’s letter, Leneghan said: “This is a man who has been a pimple on my butt for eight years. He was demeaning and disrespectful to the elected officials of the township. I had no choice.”
During Gerber’s comments Tuesday, he produced a letter between trustees and an attorney. “How is Mr. Gerber in receipt of attorney-client information?” Leneghan asked.
“It showed up in my email,” Gerber said at the meeting.
“I don’t believe a word he says,” Leneghan said. “He lied to me about the letter in the email. I do not know it but I believe it to be true; he is a liar.”
“I stand firm,” he said. “He is a liar and manipulates people.”
Trustee Shyra Eichhorn, chair of the trustees, said she had no comment about Gerber’s letter.
Denutte defeated Gerber in last November’s election for the fiscal officer position.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.