Collinsville Benefits Raise Questions

Edit Note:  Tulsa, as we publish here, extends to Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas if not beyond and Collinsville, Oklahoma is most certinely a part of our community.  In a two part series, Collinsville News Editor Bill Johnston has uncovered remarkable misdirection of public funds first May 5 then again May 19.  Both stories follow:

Collinsville City Commissioner Pam Porter had her insurance coverage canceled as of April 1 over questions concerning her participation in group insurance coverage provided to full-time city employees, of which commissioners are not.

Based on the opinion of Collinsville City Attorney Ken Underwood, Porter was not eligible for the coverage even though she was reimbursing the city for the premium costs. Evidently all this came into question in early March when Porter had become delinquent in reimbursing the city for her premium and a question was raised as to her eligibility in the first place.

When contacted by city officials in March, Underwood evidently researched the issue and issued the opinion.

Porter said she was unaware that she was not entitled to the insurance. She told the News last week that she was told either by then City Clerk Fern Young or by city worker Angela Long (now McGinnis) that she could enroll in the insurance back in 1998 or 1999. Calls to Ron Cates, then city attorney, and Young had not been returned as of press time in order to ask both about their recollection of the situation.

McGinnis said she does not recall whether it was her or Young that told Porter she could sign up for the insurance. "It could have been me or it could have been Fern, that was a long time ago," she said.

Porter said she did not have a conversation with Cates in regard to her eligibility but trusted the word of Young or Long. No one with the city could provide any documentation where the city attorney gave an opinion as to the eligibility of a city commissioner to be a part of the employees’ group health insurance coverage. Many cities do have programs where they provide insurance coverage for commissioners. But the Collinsville city charter is very plain in its wording regarding any compensation or benefit for being a commissioner other than a token $3 per meeting.

The charter says that in no case shall a Board of Commissioners member receive compensation for services other than provided by that document. Also, the oath of office that every commissioner must sign also states that, "I will not, knowingly, receive directly or indirectly, any money or other valuable thing for the performance or nonperformance of any act or duty pertaining to my office, other than the compensation allowed by law."

City Manager Pam Polk contacted the city attorney for his interpretation. Polk said she became aware of the problem after being approached by city staff members and by city auditors who questioned the lateness of the payments as well as the eligibility of a commissioner who was not a full-time city employee to receive health benefits. She then contacted the city attorney.

Underwood, when contacted recently by the News, would not confirm who or when he was contacted, citing client/attorney privilege. But according to Porter, she was contacted by Polk and notified sometime in March that her insurance would be canceled.

"Ken (Underwood) said I wasn’t eligible so I told them to cut it off," Porter told the News. "I don’t want to do anything that might be considered wrong."

The reason for the "red flag" was the fact that Porter had not reimbursed the city for her premiums since August of 2009. The amount due was approximately $280.66 per month and Porter paid the city $2,219.50 for eight months of premiums. Prior to that, Porter had not paid her monthly premiums for a full year, 12 months, from August of 2008 until she paid the August 2008 through July of 2009 premium on Aug. 9, 2009. That amount was $3,468.48.

Evidently, the city of Collinsville was covering Porter’s premiums for all those months.

Based on records of payment history obtained through the Open Records Act by the News, Porter was not charged any type of interest or penalty for being late, essentially receiving a no interest loan from the city until she reimbursed city coffers.

The history of delinquent payments to the city occurred on several occasions beginning with premiums due for July of 2001, the earliest records received from the city by the News. (See related)

Porter told the Collinsville News that whenever "I received a call from Angela, I would take them a check."

McGinnis (Long) was handling accounts receivable and payable at the time and stated that she did not invoice. "We had probably four people that were on ‘Cobra’ at the time and they all were able to pay their miums each month. Perhaps I should have invoiced her every month," Angela stated.

Invoices to Porter began in December of 2009 when records indicated she owed insurance premiums from August of that year.

Another invoice was sent on Jan. 11, 2010, which added the January premium. Another was sent March 17 adding the February and March premiums due, and on March 25, 2010 the final invoice was sent with a total due of $2,312.32. Porter paid $2,294.74.
On that invoice, a balance due of $17.58 appeared.

The only other city councilman currently serving, Bud York, told the News last Thursday "from what little I know about the situation, I don’t think there was any malice involved. I really don’t know enough at this point to form an opinion."

Another question still remains and that of the enrollment in the city’s insurance. The News requested to see a form, if one exists, where Porter may have signed to be on the insurance and whether or not she would have had to claim to be a city employee in order to enroll. That form was denied to the News based on confidential information contained on the form. Attorney advice whether or not to seek that form under the Oklahoma Open Records Act is being considered by Neighbor Newspaper management.

The other two council seats were scheduled to be filled at the next meeting this past Monday, May 3, with two new commissioners.

As of Friday, April 30, Mayor Stan Sallee, had not issued a statement on his perception of the situation.


Second Story Published May 19, 2010

Documents: Porter claimed ‘salaried’ status for insurance

Documents obtained by The Collinsville News through the Oklahoma Open Records Act indicate that Collinsville City Commissioner Pam Porter may have misrepresented herself on at least two occasions in order to obtain health insurance coverage through the city of Collinsville, though that benefit is not available to city commissioners.

On June 5,2006, Porter completed an insurance enrollment form including her signature where she listed her employer as the city of Collinsville, and checked a box indicating she was a salaried employee of the city. She lists her occupation on that form as a commissioner.

Porter also completed a group insurance enrollment form in June 1999 that also indicated her employer was the city of Collinsville.

But the city’s employee handbook indicates that only full-time employees will be covered by the city’s insurance plan.

Commissioners receive $3 per meeting from the city, and the city’s charter prohibits any other compensation.

Porter also swore an oath when she took office that she would not "knowingly receive directly or indirectly any money or other valuable thing for the performance or non-performance of any act or duty pertaining to my office, other than the compensation allowed by law."

Porter is currently the owner and operator of a tag agency on Broadway as an agent of the Oklahoma Tax Commission.  She was first elected to the city commission in 1996.

According to City Attorney Ken Underwood, while advising Collinsville City Manager Pam Polk, Porter was not entitled to ever be on the city’s employee insurance as outlined by the city charter.

Porter claims that she was advised by other city workers originally that she was eligible to take the coverage.

Former City Clerk Fern Young told the News she recalled at least two extensive discussions about the insurance at city commission meetings prior to allowing Porter to be added to the plan in 1998 or 1999.

Young could not confirm whether or not then-City Attorney Ron Cates advised Porter she was eligible for insurance coverage.  A phone call to Mr. Cates seeking comment has not been returned.

The agreement between Porter and the city stipulated she would reimburse the city for the full cost of premiums on a monthly basis, as indicated by payments records obtained by the News.

Porter had a record of late payments.  In one instance, a full year passed between insurance premium payments, while other gaps spanned several months at a time.

Porter said she paid the overdue balances whenever she was contacted by city staff regarding the delinquencies.  One such payment was nearly $3,500.

According to the city, Porter’s insurance coverage was terminated April 1, 2010.

Records show City Commissioner Pam Porter apparently had a history of late payments for health insurance benefits City Attorney Ken Underwood said she was not eligible for in the first place.

•    2001 – Porter did not pay for coverage from July of 2001 through December of that year until finally paying the premium in January of 2002.
•    2002 – Two times in 2002 she was late one month with payments and failed to pay the September and October premium of 2002 until November of that year.
•    2003 – She was on time for 11 of the 12 months.
•    2004 – She was on time for 11 of the 12 months.
•    2005 – Beginning with the October premium for 2005 through the December 2005 premium, she didn’t pay until February of 2006.
•    2006-2008 – The premium for January and February of 2006 was not paid until June of 2006. And the premiums for March of 2006 through March of 2007 were not paid until March of 2007. In March of 2007, records indicate that Porter paid for March, April, May and June of 2007.  The payment for August of 2007 was paid in August that year but the payments for September of 2007 through January of 2008 were not paid until February of 2008.
•    2008 – The February 2008 premium through the July 2008 premium was not paid until August of 2008. Porter had not paid her monthly premiums for a full year, 12 months, from August of 2008 until she paid the August 2008 through July of 2009 premium on Aug. 9, 2009.

About the author:
Bill Johnston is the 58-year-old editor of the Collinsville News, a weekly publication of Neighbor Newspapers, a subsidiary of Community Publications, Inc. of Bentonville, Arkansas. Collinsville News is one of 12 newspapers in the Tulsa area owned by CPI.

Johnston began his career in media at the age of 9 when his father, owner and operator of the Fairfax Chief in Fairfax, OK was forced to look for some help as one of his employees was in the hospital. A regular regimen of work began with efforts through high school working the back shop, press work and some photography and sports writing. That extended into work at an OSU radio station during the early 1970s followed by several positions, mostly in advertising sales and some on-air work for several radio stations and a television station from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to Durant.  In 1980, Johnston returned to Fairfax to take over the family newspaper operation where he remained until 2002.  Editor positions in Jenks and currently in Collinsville have occupied his time since then.

A winner of numerous awards from the Oklahoma Press Association, Johnston considers himself a conservative first and foremost. "I’ve been a registered Democrat and currently a registered Republican, but only because I feel the importance of registration is to be able to vote in as many elections as possible.  My whole philosophy revolves around the fact that government should be there only to serve the public and not the other way around," he said.