It will be back to business as usual in the city of Baldwin on Monday after the city council voted Friday evening to approve a new insurance policy. Council members agreed to contract with the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency for its liability insurance. GIRMA is a risk-sharing fund administered by the Georgia Municipal Association. City officials turned to them earlier this week after learning that the city’s liability insurance had lapsed.
The base rate for the new policy is $96,112 per year, substantially higher than the previous cost of $86,000 with the Norton Agency, but it covers more property and provides additional services city officials say they did not have under their old policy.
GIRMA agreed to backdate the policy at no cost to ensure that any liabilities incurred during Baldwin’s 13-day coverage gap would be covered.
Lack of follow up and alleged ‘extortion’
That old policy expired on May 1, but Baldwin’s City Clerk and Chief Administrative Officer Emily Woodmaster says she was under the impression the policy rolled over after her calls to the broker went unanswered.
“I requested an update on our policy from our broker on April 26 and was only informed on May 10 when I requested another update that we were not currently covered.”
Gainesville’s Norton Agency brokered the policy that lapsed. CEO Bob Norton attended Friday’s special called meeting. Speaking publicly before the city council, he assigned blame for the situation to the city’s former insurance agent and now-former Norton agent, Ty Talley.
“His efforts were lacking in the delivery of that and the explanation. He did give the price before the expiration of the policy, but there was some understanding that that policy probably should have been automatically renewed. But that’s not the way this coverage works, and so that coverage expired,” Norton said, adding, “He made no effort to follow up.”
Norton also addressed Woodmaster’s allegations that Talley attempted to pressure the city into purchasing medical insurance through him.
“I have subsequently been told that Mr. Talley used some words that were, in my estimation, extortion. And I think if I were you, I would prosecute to the fullest extent,” he told the council. “I have no tolerance for that. When I found out today, I made a phone call to him. He acknowledged that he said that.”
In a brief statement to Now Habersham after the meeting, Norton said: “I can not elaborate on personnel matters. Mr. Tally [sic] was an independent contractor working under our company, but we felt it best to part ways.”
Now Habersham reached out to Talley for comment. He had not responded as of publication time.
It ‘won’t happen again’
Baldwin City Councilmember Alice Venter and Mayor Joe Elam went on record to defend Woodmaster against allegations of mismanagement after the story of the lapsed coverage broke.
“I have a lot of respect for Bob Norton and the Norton Agency and the guts that it took for him to come in and be transparent and say, ‘Hey, we messed up. Our guy’s gone now,’” Venter says.
Obviously relieved by the outcome and sense of vindication found in Norton’s corroboration of events, Venter says she is pleased with the insurance coverage the city now has. Woodmaster says the new policy offers some extra benefits the old policy didn’t, such as access to up to $10,000 in safety grant money, free property appraisals, and a claims helpline.
Asked if there were things she could have done differently to prevent the coverage lapse, Woodmaster says, “I don’t know that I could have done anything differently because I didn’t know.” She adds, “Going forward, this absolutely won’t happen again. This was my first year as CAO in administering this policy, and I relied on the broker.”
Woodmaster shut down several city offices and reduced the workforce to limit the city’s liability exposure during the coverage gap. Those who were furloughed May 12 and 13 will be paid for the time off.
“We ran really smoothly. No hiccups. All of the city services were taken care of, and everything that needed to run did run,” Woodmaster says. “Come Monday, everything and everyone will be back in full force.”
This article has been updated with the latest information