Written by Kelly Kaczala
March 09, 2009
Five months after the state auditor ruled that Jerusalem Township Trustee Rodney Graffis has to repay the township $20,174.04 for reimbursements he received for health insurance coverage, it’s unclear whether he has to or not.
There are conflicting opinions between the state auditor’s office and the Lucas County prosecutor as to whether the auditor’s finding is enforceable.
A 2007 audit of the township by State Auditor Mary Taylor’s office last October found that Graffis was ineligible to receive reimbursements because he was already getting health insurance coverage through his union.
Jerusalem Township reimburses township trustees for out-of-pocket costs of health insurance premiums if they are denied or opt out of coverage from their primary employer. The state auditor’s office reviewed the documentation Graffis had submitted for reimbursement and found that health insurance was part of his primary employers benefit package.
“A review of Mr. Graffis’ supporting documentation…showed that his health insurance premiums were part of his union benefit package and were paid by his employer,” states the auditor’s report issued last October 16. “The township mistakenly believed they could reimburse Mr. Graffis for this amount.”
But House Bill 458 releases Graffis and other township officials in Ohio with similar findings, according to John Borell, assistant Lucas County prosecutor who represents the township.
“It prohibited both the attorney general and county prosecutors from enforcing those findings for recovery,” said Borell. “The law prohibits us from enforcing it even if we thought we should. It specifically prohibits both the county prosecutor and attorney general from enforcing the finding for recovery.”
Taylor has a different interpretation of the law regarding reimbursements for out-of-pocket health insurance costs compared to her predecessor, Betty Montgomery.
“Rod was not the only one who was caught up in this,” said Borell. “A large number of other township trustees all of a sudden found themselves with these huge findings for recoveries when the previous auditor said it was okay. So I assume the Lucas County Township Association went to the state legislature asking for this change.”
The township’s previous fiscal officer, Don Murray, had contacted Montgomery on the matter, and had received approval to reimburse Graffis, said Borell.
“So that’s why it began. Don didn’t do this on his own,” said Borell. “He actually consulted the auditor. There’s letters back and forth. That’s why it went on a couple of years. In fact, I personally contacted the auditor’s office after this issue first came up and they told me it was okay. That was the part that really annoyed me. As a result of all this, I assume someone went to the legislature and said we have to do something about this. We can’t have all these huge findings for recovery, so the law was changed retroactively. Neither the prosecutors nor the attorney general can collect under these findings of fact. It basically wiped them all out from the past.”
Borell said he needs more clarification on House Bill 458 before Graffis can continue getting reimbursed by the township for out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance.
As far as I know, he is not being reimbursed now,” said Borell. “I don’t think that statute really cleared up the law at all, in terms of Rod’s situation, anyway.”
He said he spoke to township fiscal officer Julie Van Nest and Trustee Joe Kiss about the matter.
“I told them that I don’t believe Rod should be reimbursed, at least at the present time, until we try and clarify this because we do not want to go through this again,” said Borell. “As I read that statute, many amendments were made, but what was not done was clarify what out-of-pocket means. If he continued to be reimbursed, we’d be right back in the same situation all over again.”
Graffis told The Press that he was in Columbus and spoke with the chief legal adviser from the auditor’s office, who said he did nothing wrong.
“She said everything was fine on what the township was doing, fine what I was doing,” said Graffis.
The legal adviser will be sending a letter to the attorney general’s office that states “that everything is well within the parameters of what we were doing,” said Graffis.
He insisted, contrary to Taylor’s finding, that he pays out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance premiums and that he is eligible for reimbursements from the township.
“It’s from out of my wage package,” he said.
He will seek continued reimbursement from the township for out-of-pocket insurance premiums once he gets the paperwork back from the auditor and attorney general, he said.
But Emily K. Frazee, spokesman for the state auditor’s office, said Borell and Graffis are wrong.
She spoke with the auditor’s legal advisor, who told her that Graffis still owes the money to the township.
“The finding for recovery for $20,174.04 still stands,” said Frazee. “It’s our interpretation his case doesn’t qualify under the legislation they’re referring to. He’s liable for the funds. It is still in the attorney general’s hands for collection.”
Frazee said the auditor’s office contacted Graffis Thursday morning. “We put in a call to him to explain that he still owes that money,” she said.
Ted Hart, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the attorney general refers such matters to the county prosecutor’s office for enforcement.
“We only get involved after a period of time if it hasn’t been successful,” said Hart.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julie Bates agreed with Borell that House Bill 458 releases Graffis from the auditor’s finding.
“This issue is, in our opinion, over,” said Bates. “We’re not going to pursue it. I’m pretty sure the Ohio Attorney General won’t pursue it, either. The problem is, we have no authority to ask the auditor to remove that finding for recovery, so it sort of hangs out there.”
Borell, who is deputy chief of the civil division, said Bates normally assigns findings for recovery to the civil division.
“Then I assign them to who I think is appropriate to do it,” said Borell. “In Rod’s case, since they changed the law, I didn’t have to make that decision to enforce or collect on that finding of fact.”
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