Lake Shore Hosp Auth Insurance Woes: Could be a wakeup call instead of business as usual.
Posted September 3, 2012 06:00 pm
Gov Jeb Bush appointment and the then LSHA Chairman, Jack Berry, at the official opening of the LSHA admin building. Mr. Berry has not bashful about showing his disdain for the Observer.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County's Lake Shore Hospital Authority was a forgotten entity for years until the Columbia County Observer began to report on what was going on. It was not a pretty sight. Authority board members and county commissioners getting contracts; an outside accountant, who for years has and continues to serve simultaneously as the Authority's accountant and outside auditor; and a former Authority board chairman, Jackson P. "Jack" Berry, who resigned from the Board and months later became it's part time manager – 24 unverified hrs. a week for a total package worth approximately $60k a year.
Columbia County's good ol' boys take care of each other.
A Google search for the Lake Shore Hospital Authority reveals that the Columbia County Observer is the number one source for Authority news.
After being excluded from the Authority's insurance policy, the wounded Hospital Authority Manager Berry, a public official and public figure, decided to sue, even though he had been offered numerous times and had been reminded that he has a standing offer to point out alleged deficiencies of fact so they could be corrected. At every opportunity, Mr. Berry declined, with statements like, "All you want to do is tell lies about Jackie."
A little background
On or about February 13, 2012, Zurich American, the Authority's insurance carrier, through the Florida League of Cities, advised the Authority that its D&O, Directors and Officers insurance would be renewed, with the exception of Authority Manager, Jack Berry.
On February 15, 2012, Melissa Solis at the Florida League of Cities sent Jack Berry an email, which said in relevant part: "In regards to the Specific Claimant Exclusion for you, Jackson Berry, Zurich American Insurance Company had performed a web search and found ... publicity surrounding that is not favorable."
Ms. Solace in every correspondence and e mail made available through the FL public records laws has stated no further explanation for Mr. Berry's un-insurability.
The Authority staff seemed to have gone into overdrive unsuccessfully searching for D&O insurance for Authority Manager Berry. Through July, not one word leaked out that the Authority Manager had become uninsurable and Mr. Berry had worked without D&O insurance since he was taken off the policy months ago.
They tried everything
They tried everything. Jack Berry was denied insurance by what seemed like every major insurance company in America: Admiral and Carolina Casualty, Travelers, CNA, and Navigators.
Then on February 22nd, Thomas Mathe, an insurance broker in the Jacksonville office of Gresham & Associates asked why Zurich wanted to "exclude the board member."
While there has been no correspondence that ever gave a specific reason why Zurich denied coverage to Berry, other than "publicity surrounding that is not favorable," Jennifer Ramsey of Mid State Insurance, Tennessee, gave Mr. Mathe what appeared to be her own opinion in an e mail dated Feb. 22nd.: "They found some derogatory information on the internet, about the member. It had been posted by a local reporter."
A careful examination of lower right hand corner of the Mid State web page reveals that Jackson P. Berry, Jr. gave Mid State a glowing recommendation from his detective agency, Berry International Detective Services. Jackson P. Berry Sr. was the past president of the detective agency.
On March 8, 2012, Buck Young from Mid State gave what appears to be his personal opinion: "We are unable to secure Directors & Officers that would include Jackson P. Berry Sr., because of derogatory information found on the Columbia County Observer's website."
Mid State's Young did not explain the basis of his remarks, nor did he state that Berry's Detective Agency had recommended Mid State Insurance.
On April 5, 2012, Debbie Wilson of Bass Underwriters of Gainesville explained why she could not secure D&O for Berry this way: "Confirming our conversation, we were unable to secure a D&O Quotation for the above risk [Jackson P. Berry]. Apparently there are some controversial issues that arose that kept us from getting a quotation."
On June 19, 2012, the Wheeler Agency of Lake City told Mr. Berry in a letter, "I regret my inability to offer a solution."
Authority Board Member Weighs In: Will he be next?
Finally on July 30, 2012, Authority board member and former president of Lake City's Columbia Bank, weighed in, in an evaluation of Manager Berry's performance. He had Mr. Berry falling short in two categories, financial controls and strategic planning. Mr. Naylor said in part:
I feel the financial controls; disbursement process could be much more effective. We spend the taxpayer’s money but we are far too casual about the approvals, amounts, and more importantly the justification... There must be a much more controlled process to spend this kind of money. ¶ There is no strategic plan... This should be a formal process... with all Board input. How do you know what was accomplished was the intended objective...
Mr. Naylor then commented on the lack of insurance for Mr. Berry this way:
The League of Cities provided the justification of the denial of D&O coverage as derogatory material on the Internet regarding the Executive Director. I believe it is incumbent on the Board of Trustees to determine the reason for denial of coverage beyond the reasons given by the League of Cities.
The League of Cities did not describe the material on the internet as derogatory; at least in any documents received by the Observer, however, it may be wise for the Governor appointed Board to take Mr. Naylor's advice.
On July 31, one day after Board Member Naylor's evaluation and remarks about the denial of insurance for Mr. Berry, Authority Attorney Marlin Feagle wrote to the FL League of Cities and asked for an answer, to among other things: "What reason of justification has been given by Zurich or any of the other insurance carriers contacted for the denial of D&O coverage for Mr. Berry?"
On August 15, 2012, in response that question, Melissa Solis of the FL League of Cities responded in part this way:
The Florida League of Cities is not the D&O insurer for
the hospital authority, nor did it have any underwriting
authority in the insurance coverage offering/coverage
denial decision made by Zurich American Insurance
Company. Accordingly, the best source for answers to the
questions you pose rests with the relevant decision
maker: Zurich American Insurance Company.
In response to the questions you posed, we can only offer the following:
A. The broker advises Zurich has declined to comment on this question. The broker also cannot make a comment on behalf of Zurich or other insurers.
Mr. Berry's threatened defamation law suit brings more disrepute to the Authority and Columbia County. Instead, the Board should demand that Mr. Berry comply with the law and with particularity state his objections to the statements of fact contained in the Observer, which we have volunteered to correct for years.
It is not clear if Mr. Berry, a public official, who is voted in by the Authority Board, will strike out at Board Member Naylor and sue him for the remarks in his evaluation.
It is sad that after all these years, Jackson P. "Jack" Berry and Columbia County's good ol' boys still don't get it.
Instead of the Zurich American D&O incident being a wakeup call, it is business as usual in Columbia County, Florida.