The Board of Commissioners passed the contract for new insurance benefits consultant Resurgens Risk Management by a 2-1 vote Tuesday after heated discussion about transparency and campaign contributions.
The one-year contract would award a $60,000 flat fee per year instead of the typical 2-5 percent commission off the gross premiums, or about $120,000 - $300,000 with Rockdale's gross premiums of approximately $6 million.
The county put its insurance brokerage services out to bid last fall and received eight bid offers in January of this year. After an evaluation by four people, Resurgens Risk Management received the highest average score in the evaluation, 427.5, followed by Wells Fargo Insurance Corp. at 413.75 and current consultant Nuvision Financial Corp. had a score of 412.25.
Commissioner JaNice Van Ness voted against the contract and initially asked to defer the matter.
"I don't feel like it's a fair transparent process," she said.
She pointed out that Resurgens had donated $250 on May 31 to Chairman Richard Oden's campaign, although the check was returned on June 4.
Another cause for concern was that Resurgens had hosted a June 7 campaign event for Commissioner Oz Nesbitt.
"While it wasn't listed on that disclosure, it should be because that was an in-kind. They contributed space for his event," said Van Ness.
Commissioner Oz Nesbitt disagreed. "Everything is clear and out in the open. Anyone in this audience can go to campaign disclosures and pull anything they want to pull."
As for the campaign event, he said, "This is not against the ethics law, which governs the state."
Van Ness said, "That doesn't make it right... It's a judgment issue."
Nesbitt asked about campaign contributions she had received from current insurance broker Nuvision in the past.
"They gave to all the commissioners who sat here before, including you," Nesbitt said.
"It wasn't during a bid process," Van Ness said.
Nuvision had previously been with the county for more than two decades but had a contract with the county only in the last several years.
Tony Wilson of Nuvision said after the meeting that the county had never asked him for a contract previously.
According to candidates' Campaign Contribution Disclosure reports, Wilson and/or Nuvision contributed to Nesbitt in 2009, to former Post 1 Commissioner and current Commission Chairman candidate Jason Hill in 2008, and at least twice to former Chairman Roy Middlebrooks in 2008 and 2007.
According to Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon, Nuvision also attempted to donate to Oden's campaign but the check was similarly refunded a few days later. Campaign donors with donations of less than $101 do not need
to be identified on campaign disclosure reports.
Wilson confirmed he had donated to Van Ness's campaign previously but not to all sitting commissioners, as Nesbitt said at the meeting.
Nesbitt said to Van Ness, "All this you brought here this is a bunch of nonsense based upon the fact this company has contributed to each and every commissioner in the past."
Van Ness also objected to Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon's role as one of the four evaluators since his son had previously worked at Resurgens until August 2011. If Pridgeon's scores were taken out, it would change the ranking of the bids, she said.
Van Ness said there was no consideration or points given for being a local company in the evaluation.
Nesbitt said the staff had recommended this bid and he was prepared to move forward with it.
After the vote, Van Ness said in her board comments, "Shame on the two of you for your decision today." She said she would like to have a policy requiring campaign contribution disclosures before contract votes.
Oden said in his remarks, "We made a decisive decision today and will continue to do so."