Trumbull County has a human resources director who is paid almost $60,000 a year to manage county government's insurance needs and oversee labor-management contracts. James Keating receives that salary because commissioners believe he has the expertise and qualifications to do the job.
Yet this week, Keating had nothing to say about an $85,000 contract for life insurance that two of the three county commissioners voted to approve. Why? Because Commissioner Joseph Angelo took it upon himself to seek quotes from Ravella Insurance Agency of Girard and another company, which he did not name.
No, this contract was not put out for public bid. No, all the insurance brokerage firms in Trumbull County, let alone the region, weren't given a chance to participate. Angelo said he called the two companies and only Ravella returned his call. He thus recommended acceptance of the Ravella proposal -- 21 cents per $1,000 coverage -- and received the backing of Commissioner James G. Tsagaris.
Commissioner Michael O'Brien voted no for one simple, but significant, reason: bids were not solicited.
Angelo, however, is unapologetic.
"From what I can see, I saved the county a ton of money and I'm happy with it," he said. "When it was 25 cents, no one said a word about bidding. Now everyone is talking about bidding."
Rate increase: The 25 cents refers to the 25 cents per $1,000 coverage the county would have had to pay as a result of its existing life insurance provider raising the rates from 23 cents. That coverage was awarded through a bid process two years ago and the contract was set to expire at the end of the month.
O'Brien contends the contract could have been extended on a month-to-month basis while the commissioners, through their human resources director, sought bids.
"How do we know that we couldn't have got the insurance for 18 cents per $1,000 or 19 cents per $1,000?" the commissioner asks.
His question is exactly the reason competitive bidding procedures are established by law for most government contracts. "Lowest and best" is the standard for entering into agreements.
Indeed, Tsagaris said he is in favor of bidding out two contracts to provide health insurance that commissioners awarded Wednesday. The county can cancel the contracts on 30 days' notice, which enables them to seek quotes from other companies.
Granted, the health insurance contracts are worth millions of dollars -- $7.5 million last year -- compared to the $85,000 that commissioners Angelo and Tsagaris voted to spend on life insurance, but any expenditure of public funds demands caution and arm's length dealings.
Why did Angelo select those two particular companies for proposals? Does he have any kind of a relationship with individuals connected to those companies?
And did Angelo inform either of his colleagues of his intentions to privately seek proposals for life insurance?
O'Brien says he wasn't aware of what Angelo was doing.