News and Tribune

March 14, 2013

Audit: England should repay money to city

Former mayor defends benefits for retired, non-union employees

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — State auditors are calling for former New Albany Mayor Doug England to reimburse the city for expenses related to executive orders and decisions he made in 2011, but he insisted Wednesday the charges are misguided. 

The State Board of Accounts released its audit of England’s last year in office this week, and the report stated the former mayor was not authorized to extend insurance benefits for outgoing employees. 

England signed an executive order in 2011 making health insurance benefits available to retiring, non-union employees that had at least 10 years of employment with the city. 

The policy was in effect for January and February of 2012 before Mayor Jeff Gahan rescinded England’s executive order and ended the insurance offering. Three retiring employees, including England, accepted the insurance coverage in 2011. 

State board of accounts’ officials stated in the audit that the New Albany employee manual doesn’t provide for insurance benefits for non-union employees upon retirement. 

The employee manual was approved through the New Albany Board of Works. The New Albany City Council also hasn’t approved a resolution or ordinance allowing retiring, non-union employees to receive insurance benefits. The combined cost for the health coverage for two months was $3,300, and the auditors are requesting the money be paid back to the city. 

England said Wednesday that only a handful of city workers aren’t offered retirement health coverage, and that doesn’t seem fair. 

“It’s very discriminatory,” England said. 

Board of works members are selected by the mayor, and England said he could have gone to the body to change the policy. However, England said at the advice of legal counsel, he elected to sign the executive order to provide the benefits. 

Current City Attorney Stan Robison supported England’s right to establish such a retirement policy under city ordinance in a response letter addressed to the state board of accounts last year. 

“Mayor England did not grant or create new insurance plans for individuals,” Robison stated in the response.  “He authorized, through executive order, certain employees with a minimum amount of years service with the city health insurance options upon their retirement to receive the same option as a union retiree.” 

England said there are non-union employees who have dedicated multiple years of service to the city, and that they deserve the same benefits as bargaining workers. 

He said Gahan should consider having the policy approved, and that his goal was to be fair to all employees. 

“I have not done anything immoral,” England said. 

The audit and issues in question are to be reviewed by the Indiana Attorney General’s office, England said. 

“We’re not going to do anything until I hear from the attorney general, and we’ll go from there,” he said. 

The audit also requested England and former New Albany Firefighter Nicholas Shavers pay back $5,200 in insurance benefits. According to the audit, Shavers was terminated by the city in August of 2011, yet continued to receive insurance coverage for three additional months. 

The $5,200 requested reimbursement includes the city-paid costs for health, dental and life insurance for Shavers during the three-month period in question.

Robison also stated in his response to the audit that Shavers was allowed by ordinance to remain on the plan as authorized by England. 

The audit also stated England didn’t have the power to enact an executive order allowing seven workers to count their collective time as city employees toward their vacation time. 

Essentially England’s 2008 executive order allowed workers who had been rehired by the administration to base their vacation time on their total number of years as a city employee. 

The order provided those employees with more vacation time than if their paid time off had been based on their most recent tenure as a public worker. 

Again, Robison sided with England in his response, as he stated city ordinances permit the mayor to establish personnel policies by executive order . 

Charlie Pride, supervisor of cities, towns and libraries for the State Board of Accounts, wasn’t immediately available for comment Wednesday. A copy of the audit is available through the department’s website at www.in.gov/sboa.