During , Athens Clarke County Commissioners suggested changing the way the county provides employees with health care coverage. Some employees were not being charged for the cost of their health care.
The people not being charged, it was said, had been promised this benefit when the city and county governments unified in 1990. Which means that for 20 years, some Athens Clarke County employees paid nothing for health insurance.
Mayor Denson said during budget discussions that there wasn’t a formal contract, just a promise. She herself was a long-time county employee, serving for many years as the county’s tax commissioner.
Commissioners said that doing away with this benefit would allow night-time buses to continue running most of the evening. Which would allow people to travel to and back from their jobs.
Athens Patch decided to explore the health care issue further. Patch wanted to find out more about the no-charge benefit: who got it, how much other employees pay for their health insurance coverage, the different options available for health care, and how much the no-charge benefit has cost the county over the past 20 years.
Athens Patch called John Culpepper in finance. He directed us to Lisa Ward in Human Resources, who then directed us to Harry Owens. Mr. Owens said we could have the information we wanted after June 7.
Athens Patch said we wanted the information before June 7, the day when the Commission votes on the budget. We wanted to determine how much the no-pay benefit has cost and would cost the county, if it were continued.
So we filed an electronic Open Records Request with the . We expected to schedule a meeting to review records, take notes and perhaps make a few copies in order to write a story.
We believed, and believe, that our readers would want to know who doesn’t pay for health care. Because most of our readers do pay, or have paid, for health care coverage themselves.
At 4:58 on Friday afternoon, a reply came from Mr. Owens. It said
"the estimated cost in staff time to search, retrieve, copy and supervise access to the requested records is estimated to be $405.00 for 12 hours at $33.67 per hour to cover the administrative costs of assisting you with your request. This fee represents the salary of the lowest paid full-time employee who possesses the skill and training to perform the request. Of course if it takes less or more time than estimated you will be charged the actual costs. You will also be charged 25 cents for each page of the records you request to have copied. It is estimated that the records you requested will be approximately 375 pages."
Mr. Owens’ reply also said Athens Patch could come to the Human Resources Department on or after June 9.
Athens Patch has got to wonder who in local government makes $33.67 an hour. And why it should take 12 hours to track down information on health care options that should be available to every employee and dollar figures that go out with every paycheck. And why Mr. Owens suggests Athens Patch look at records after the June 7 meeting.
Who knew transparency could be so costly?