Taxpayers forced to live with brokerage fees

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By Josh Adams

A request from District 209 school board member Charles Flowers to revisit the issue of brokerage fees paid to a political ally of the board president was denied recently, and it appears the district will continue paying some $18,000 a month to Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore.

According to Superintendent Stan Fields, the high school district doesn't actually have a contract with Moore's insurance brokerage firm, EMM & Associates, and pays the monthly commission through increased premiums to Blue Cross Blue Shield, the district's health insurance provider. Fields said the district can't pull the $18,000 in commission from its monthly payments to Blue Cross Blue Shield without jeopardizing the insurance coverage to District 209 employees.

The only option, Fields said, is to wait the contract out and look for a better deal when it expires on July 1, 2007.

"One way or another, I can't imagine Gene Moore will be around the district in the next fiscal year," Fields said.

A committee recommendation regarding the district's health care coverage is expected to be made to the board in May or June, Fields said, and it's unlikely that taxpayers will be asked to support such lucrative commissions.

"We have options," Fields said. "We need to make the best choices for our employees and our taxpayers. Having a broker of record is probably not the most efficient way to do business."

According to e-mails between Flowers and the superintendent that were made public at the March board meeting, Flowers had asked that information on the contract with EMM & Associates be placed on an upcoming agenda for the school board. That request was granted in March, and a motion to end the district's relationship with Moore's firm failed. That motion, however, which was made by Flowers, would not have severed those ties until the health insurance contract was set to expire anyway.

Board President Chris Welch denied follow up requests from Flowers to revisit the contract at the April 19 board of education meeting. According to an April 13 e-mail addressed to Fields and the board members from Welch, Welch determined Flowers' request was "dilatory" under Robert's Rules of Order. Specifically, Welch doubted the outcome of a new vote would be any different.

"Thus, I conclude that the motions requested by Mr. Flowers are nothing more than dilatory motions that are abusive, harassing and disrespectful to the will of the board, and as president and chair, I will refuse to allow these items to be placed on the agenda under these circumstances," Welch said in his written communication.

Neither Flowers nor Welch returned phone calls seeking comment for this report.

The District 209 school board first retained Moore as the broker of record in August of 2005 by a vote of 4-3. Joining the majority was board member Sue Henry, who is employed as Moore's chief of staff at the county office.

Flowers' request to revisit certain contracts also included payments to the public relations firm, Danielle Ashley. Though the district has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the firm in recent years, Fields said there is no contracted agreement. Since August of 2006, Fields said the district has severed its financial relationship with the firm.

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