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County enters contract with insurance broker Williams-Manny, leaves Northern

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 9:06 p.m. CST

MORRIS – The battle of the brokers ended Tuesday evening – following months of dispute and accusations – with the Grundy County Board voting to hire Williams-Manny Insurance of Rockford.

Morris-based Northern Insurance Group was the county’s insurance broker for the past five years, but was replaced due to alleged communication and professionalism issues.

The county will pay Williams-Manny a fee of $2,917 a month – or $35,000 a year – for its services. The contract is for one year.

This amount is nearly identical to what the county paid Northern Insurance.

All 17 County Board members were present at Tuesday’s meeting. The board approved the switch from Northern to Williams-Manny, 11-6, with members Doug Boresi, John Galloway, Frank Halpin, Ken Iverson, Dick Joyce and Jim Ryan opposing the change.

“The county should move forward with the broker that’s going to deliver the best service and then hold them accountable for cost reduction,” board member Chris Balkema said Tuesday. “Right now, that’s Williams-Manny.”

Northern’s communication was called into question months ago when the Grundy County Personnel Committee asked Northern to provide cost-saving ideas. The county currently pays nearly $3 million for employee insurance coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield and is trying to prune the county budget.

Northern failed to deliver any new ideas and did not respond to the county’s multiple attempts to contact them, according to Human Resource Director Debra Johnson and members of the personnel committee.

Personnel Chairwoman Vicki Geiger said a Northern broker had only attended one personnel meeting in the past 18 months.

“To only be at one meeting in 18 months is, to me, just unacceptable,” Geiger said Tuesday.

Johnson said she pursued a new broker, Williams-Manny, after the firm was recommended by HR Directors from other counties.

Many county employees and board members were concerned about Johnson’s singular pursuit of Williams-Manny, so the Grundy County State’s Attorney’s Office conducted a thorough investigation to uncover any connections between Johnson and the firm.

The office found nothing.

Tim Knauf, of Williams-Manny, presented at a handful of personnel and full-board meetings throughout the past two months, claiming his firm could save the county money while providing more services to employees through a renegotiation with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

At one meeting, he assured employees that Williams-Manny would not exterminate any existing health benefits.

The contract allows the county to terminate Williams-Manny at will if it is unsatisfied with service, as long as it provides Williams-Manny 60-day notice.

With the approval of the contract, the threat of a lawsuit from Northern lingers. Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland in a previous meeting claimed that Northern may have grounds for a lawsuit since there is an implied contract in place, and the broker may not have been given enough notice of termination.

Whether Northern will file suit against the county is unknown.

OUTBOX

Other action

• Hired Eric Peterson to be technology consultant at wage of $5,500 per month

• Promoted county worker Larry Pelehowski to Supervisor of Maintenance

• Approved tax abatement agreement with Blair Road Hotel Associates LLC

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