Parker alleges bid process 'tainted'


First Posted: 1/15/2009

Mayor candidate wants health insurance contract

LUMBERTON -- A candidate for city mayor says she has been treated unfairly by the City Hall in the bidding process for the city's employee health insurance contract, calling the process “tainted.”
Deborah Parker, a financial planner with Raymond James Financial Services, hinted at the alleged improper treatment while making a presentation to City Council during its Policy Committee meeting on Wednesday. This morning, during an interview with a reporter, she elaborated, although she would not specifically call it “politics.”
Parker is challenging Mayor Raymond Pennington in the Nov. 4 election.
Parker was one of two people who presented a health insurance plan to the council on Wednesday. Her business would serve as the administrator for a BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina plan.
David Walker, of BB&T Insurance, made a presentation of a plan by ACS Benefit Services, a subsidiary of BlueCross.
Parker suggested the council was not seriously considering her proposal, saying queries from city officials that preceded Wednesday's meeting had been made to Walker, but not to her.
“I do believe the bidding process was terribly tainted, but I'm not sure a lot of it isn't just a total lack of knowledge about the direction and whose responsibility this is,” Parker said this morning. “I don't think there's anybody that really understands the position. Instead of getting a consultant, someone to sit down and explain it to them, they turned it over to staff, and staff doesn't really understand it either.”
Councilman Robert Shaw on Wednesday indicated he was concerned by the tone of Parker's presentation.
“I hear a degree of accusation in your presentation,” Shaw said.
Parker responded by saying that she didn't feel she had been treated fairly by city officials during the inquiry process.
“There have been questions sent back and forth to BlueCross BlueShield,” Parker said, “but I have not been asked, the competition has been asked.”
Councilman Bruce Davis expressed concerns about Parker's plan, saying he had received several memos from City Hall staff stating that BlueCross didn't cover retirees.
Leonard Price, the city's risk manager, told the council he understood the insurer wouldn't cover retired employees. He said he had met with Walker and his associates to discuss the retiree issue.
Parker told the council that retirees would be covered, but one of Walker's co-presenters, David Haynes, a marketing manager from BlueCross's Wilmington office, told the council that retirees over age 65 would have to be moved to Medicare. However, Rich Harper, ACS assistant vice president of marketing, said that ACS would cover retirees over the age of 65.
Parker said she has been working with the Greensboro office of BlueCross BlueShield.
Parker also said this morning that she doesn't believe her bidding for a city contract while a candidate for mayor constitutes a conflict of interest. She pointed out that she approached the city before making the decision to run for mayor.
The city's current health insurance costs about $2.6 million a year. Under the plan presented by Parker, the cost would be about $1.5 million. The ACS plan had a variety of options, and ranged in total cost from $1.9 million to $2.2 million.
The council didn't vote on the bids and will hold a workshop to discuss the plans.
Land gift
Also Wednesday, the council voted to accept the Buckeye Lumberton's gift of land where its old downtown warehouse was located before it burned down. The city plans to use the lot for a combination of a park and parking spaces. Fire destroyed the Buckeye warehouse, which stood between First and Second streets, in December 2000. The 1-acre property is covered by a concrete slab.
“This is a very gracious and generous donation,” said Pennington.
F. Gray Carter, vice president of operations at the plant, told the council the land was donated free and clear of any restrictions on its future use, but said the company hoped it would have a naming opportunity on the park.
City Manager Todd Powell gave the council a report that proposes using the land for about 45 parking spaces and four “green spaces” with a water feature. He said that, because of the concrete, minimal grading would be needed for the project. Excess soil from the new City Hall construction site could be trucked over to build up planting areas.
“Smart Start, Exploration Station and the library would all directly benefit from this parking,” Powell said.
In other business, the council:
-- Approved the sale of the city's 10-acre property on Wintergreen Drive to Doherty Holdings for $787,600. Doherty Holdings is represented by Christopher Doherty of Lakeland, Fla.
-- Awarded a $17,940 contract to Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates to perform a federal-mandated assessment of the city's water system and its potential vulnerability to terrorism. Part of the cost will be covered by an $8,400 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
-- Approved a $5,000 contribution to the Lumberton Area Chamber of Commerce for the annual Holiday of Parade, which will held Nov. 22.

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