consultants are sandburs

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

RAMSEY - A published contention, and two statements submitted by key people.

Citizens for Responsible Government has a facebook page, here, which links to a 21 page pdf item, here, with its page 4 in the below screen capture (click it to enlarge and read):

That item is published on a public upload website, and authorship is unknown to me but given that the CRG Facebook page links to it, presumably CRG people may know of authorship detail.

That page makes it sound as if some suggestion of wrongful intent and offering might have been at play. If a business advantage is offered to person X, an official, by person Y, in exchange for person X doing an official act; Minn. Stat. Sect. 609.42, may come into play, either as an attempt, or a complete act, depending on how person X responds; and whether an innocent suggestion aimed at being helpful vs. an intentional wrongful offer was involved. There are nuances for the lawyers among us to understand better than I can, especially any experienced in such legal areas of practice and interpretation.

So it is a disturbing thing to read, and to wonder about without more detail.

So sometimes to understand something you have to ask questions. Both Matt Look, and Randy Backous responded to an email request for some form of written comment, regarding that single page from a 21 page item. Full unedited responses follow.

Matt Look emailed me:

Let me start out by saying that the efforts to make us look "bad" with broadsiding attempts to discredit us and sadly unbelievable. It certainly helps me understand friend vs. foe.

Background....The County was experiencing 17% increase in health insurance cost and as chair of the finance committee, it was my goal starting out to find insurance options that could help us control the "out of control increases" that we were experiencing.

I had heard that Randy Backous was "in" the insurance industry and I reached out to him to sit in on a meeting to discuss insurance issues and better understand what options might be available to the county. There was a second insurance representative present. I had reached out to a third person, but they were not able to make it. I made it very clear to those we invited, that we were going to have an open discussion which may help us define a course of action that could lead to an RFP that, if applicable to the products they independently offer, might be an opportunity for them (those invited) could bid on. Certainly it wouldn't be closed to them, but any other interested bidder as well.

Randy Backous asked if he could invite another person...which was no issue. As it turns out, Randy didn't say anything during the meeting and let his invited representative do all the talking. It appeared as though Randy was new to the industry and I even questioned his relationship with this representative with a call to the representative to better understand how or if they work together.

Since that meeting, there has been many discussions in committee and board work sessions concerning insurance. Contrary to Randy's understanding how things work at the county, there doesn't need to be a board agenda to have informal meetings to discuss topics that may become part of a board action, at some point in the future in an open meeting, that had been property advertised. I was the only commissioner discussing the topic that there was no open meeting law violation.
To date, the board consensus, is to work within our current insurance contracts to provide higher deductible plans that can help us control costs.

At some point in the future, if we decide it is cost effective to become self insured, there will be an RFP generated and all interested insurance companies can bid in a fair manner.

For Mr. Backous to make the accusation that somehow he would have been the only bidder is contrary to county policy and state law for contract bidding.
To somehow claim that Councilmember Backous was invited to the discussion to buy him off on some future vote he may or may not take, is beyond speculation and completely malicious.

My goal was to offer an opportunity to bid on a possible future RFP (request for proposal), if we go to that point...which we obviously have not gotten to that point yet.

For the record, I am severely disappointed with Mr. Backous and his accusation.

Again the actual author of the pdf item is not known to me, Look, and Backous, judging from his emailed response:

Let me preface all of this and be very clear that I only deal in facts, not speculation. Mr. Look’s intentions cannot be proven one way or the other and I am not going to speculate on what his motives were or accuse him of any wrong doing. All I can do is relay what happened and let others draw their own conclusions.

I don’t know who authored what you attached but here are the facts in as much detail as I can possibly remember. I also still have the text messages on my phone to verify the timing and the quotes. Here are the facts and only the facts as they happened in order:

Sometime in the late afternoon of Monday, August 22, 2011 I received a call from Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look who asked me if I was still in the health insurance consulting business. He asked if I would be interested in attending the Anoka County Finance and Capital Improvement Committee meeting, which he chaired, to be held the next day. He stated that the County had issues with health insurance premiums and wondered if I could advise the committee and perhaps get their business.

During the phone call, we discussed some of the issues they were dealing with and I quickly realized that the health insurance carriers with which I was appointed would not solve the County’s problems. It would simply give them the same problems with a different carrier. I asked him if I could bring somebody along who I thought could offer the County a different option which would solve their problems. He agreed.

I didn’t tell Mr. Look at that time that I had nothing to do with Bloom Health. I wasn’t appointed with them and I would receive no compensation from them. I simply sought to introduce the two parties who I believed could help each other.

I called my contact, Mike Fortner, at Bloom Health – a company which offered a platform to help employers deliver health benefit options to their employees as individuals rather than as employees, essentially taking employers out of the group health business and saving them a substantial amount of money on administration, reporting and unpredictable premiums. This would offer the County an alternative and a way to help them solve the budget problems they were experiencing relative to health insurance benefits.

The following day, Tuesday August 23, 2011, a Bloom Health representative by the name of Amy Moore met me for the first time on the 7th floor of the Anoka County Government Center. We were both surprised and concerned that health insurance was not listed as an agenda item.

As the meeting began, Chair Look stated that he wanted to discuss health insurance benefits in agenda item 7 – “Other.” There were looks of surprise and almost shock around the table and some of the Commissioners objected. I can’t remember exactly what was said by whom, but the substance of the responses was something like, “We’ve already made that decision; we’re too far down the road with what we have; we’re sending out enrollment packets is a few weeks,” etc. Chair Look stated that he wanted to look at some other alternatives and that it was not too early to begin the discussion for 2013.

It should be noted that there were one or two other representatives from other companies in attendance. I don’t know who they were, when or by whom they were invited to the meeting but it wasn’t just me.

We waited 2 hours to get to item 7. Amy Moore presented Bloom Health’s pitch and the one or two other representatives presented theirs. Commissioners seemed interested in these options for consideration for January 1, 2013 and gathered business cards.

That same night, Sarah Strommen was sworn in as a new Ramsey Councilmember. Matt Look was in attendance in Council Chambers.

I introduced an agenda item at the HRA meeting to review the Landform contract to revise the compensation package and/or terminate it. It was seconded and passed 5-2 to add to the agenda.
Councilmember Tossey was one of those voting in favor to add the agenda item. He sits next to me on the dais and showed me a text from Matt Look that said something like, “I don’t like what you just did.”
My motion to terminate the Landform contract lost 3-4 or 2-5.

On August 25th at 11:32 am, I received the following text from Amy Moore, “Hi Randy, its Amy Moore with Bloom Health. I received an email from Matt Look asking me to explain my relationship with you. Are you a health insurance broker or P&C? Matt is concerned about working with many layers.”

On August 25th at 12:27 pm, I sent Matt Look the following text, “Matt…Amy Moore said you had questions about my relationship to Bloom. I only know of them thru a friend that works there and from my consulting days. I have no relationship or compensation from them at all. I was only there as a favor to you to answer questions and make the introduction. I am licensed to sell health benefits but all I represent are traditional plans which would only give you more of the same problems. Now that you are aware of something different and you know where to get the info, my part is done. That’s why I didn’t bother to pass out any business cards. I hope that clarifies things. Let me know if you have further questions. Randy”

Bloom Health never heard from the County or from Matt Look after that.

Those are the facts and only the facts which can be substantiated. The statements in the letter you attached are speculation. I have my own ideas about what really happened here but I am not going to accuse anybody of anything which can’t be proven.

I thank both Matt and Randy for taking the opportunity to respond. I hope this is helpful. With an election days away I hope I have not intruded unduly on anyone's time and last minute preparations.

I posted the responses before fully reading and studying either, so let the items speak for themselves.


Randy Backous said...

Thanks Eric. I think our independent responses corroborate each other and close the matter.

In response to Matt Look's reply though, I did not claim that there were open meeting violations. I was only concerned that the item was not on the agenda because I had invited a complete stranger to make a presentation and didn't want to waste her time.

Furthermore, I am not new to the business - I have been in the health insurance business for over 20 years. I did speak at the meeting and presented all the reasons why I would not be a good fit and why an option like Bloom would be, to my own detriment.

Lastly and most importantly, I did not make these accusations; somebody else did and I'm trying to help clear this up.

eric zaetsch said...

Randy I agree it was best to flesh out detail. However, I see a by-invitation preview of something that might go out for a bid, sort of a peep under the kimono. For a selected few. Not published, by invitation only. Not an agenda notice to the public. Is that best practice? Or problematic? How does it comport with Landform's first attachment onto Ramsey being a $23 thousand contract, where "Sen. Jungbauer might get us a grant" and where it was held under the $50 grand, bidding level trigger. That was an inside track thought process too, Look on Ramsey's council then. Leading to a big time bonanza to the invitee, Lazan/Landform. Is it a pattern; is it two isolated instances? This link. This video. Even with both statements, it remains troubling to me.