By DOTTY NIST
Last month the Walton County Taxpayers Association (WCTA) raised questions about the propriety of the health insurance premiums for family members of county commissioners and some top county officials being paid in full by the county.
According to Karen DeBeauchamp, benefits coordinator for Walton County Human Resources, this benefit was initiated in 2007, when it was provided in connection with the positions of county administrator, county attorney and tourist development council executive director and also to three county commissioners with spouses and/or dependents.
There had been no public discussion or mention of this benefit until the WCTA became aware of it through a public records request and brought it to the attention of the community. No discussion about the matter by the county commission at any point has been identified. DeBeauchamp has stated that the decision to provide the family insurance premium benefit was that of Human Resource Director Gary Mattison, and that no BCC action to put it in place was required.
On July 28, Bob Hudson, president of the Walton County Taxpayers Association, addressed the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) during regular session.
Hudson noted that open government is a priority for the organization. Addressing the issuance of the family insurance premium benefit to the officials and county commissioners, a benefits change “that was not publicly known,” Hudson said the WCTA was recently provided with the job description of the county human resources director, which indicates that he is authorized to direct implementation of the county’s benefits program.
Hudson’s request was that, if it were the commissioners’ belief that decisions of this nature could be delegated to the human resources director, that the BCC limit his authority to approve changes in the benefits paid by Walton County to changes presented in public forum and voted on by the BCC.
There was no response from the commissioners to Hudson’s request and no discussion or comment, with the exception of the customary “thank you” once he had concluded his presentation.
Contacted on July 30, DeBeauchamp confirmed that the persons currently receiving the family health insurance premium benefit were County Administrator Ronnie Bell, TDC Executive Director Sonny Mares, and county commissioners Cecelia Jones, Larry Jones, and Kenneth Pridgen. County Commissioner Scott Brannon is single and has no dependents. DeBeauchamp confirmed that the family insurance premium benefit for County Commission Chair Sara Comander had been discontinued per Comander’s request in a June 10 letter to human resources. She said no additional requests had been received for cessation of the benefit from the people receiving it.