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Skrep: Board’s tactic gives some agents an unfair edge

Petrilla counters move may get county more insurance quotes.

Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak doesn’t think the county should send letters to insurance carriers authorizing them to give price quotes to particular insurance agents, especially without discussing the move in advance at a public meeting.

“We should not get involved. Why are we giving someone an unfair advantage?” Skrepenak said Monday. “If this is something that’s supposed to be good for the county, why wasn’t it done openly?”

Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla said the step was taken to make sure more insurance agents have the ability to obtain quotes for county insurance, in the hopes that the county will receive more than one proposal and save money.

Petrilla said she views the letters as an administrative decision that did not require a public vote, and she said Skrepenak would have heard about it if he was more involved in day-to-day county operations.

“This office has to run. He could be part of it. It’s his choice. He chooses not to be here,” Petrilla said.

The controversy stems from Petrilla’s recent discovery that insurance providers, or underwriters, typically provide quotes to only one agent when multiple agents are competing for the same client.

Petrilla said insurance agents have informed her that Joseph J. Joyce Associates Inc., which has been providing the county’s insurance for years, had an unfair early advantage because the company already had access to comprehensive insurance data needed to obtain quotes from carriers.

Commissioners voted last week to seek insurance proposals, and responses are due Dec. 1.

Anticipating the annual insurance bidding, Eastern Insurance Group had reached out to Travelers Insurance Co. in May to start discussions about obtaining a quote, according to sales manager Robert Payne.

County Chief Clerk/Manager Doug Pape said he sent a letter to Travelers in August indicating that the company could release a quote to Eastern.

When the Joyce agency said it wanted a quote from Travelers, Pape wrote another letter on Sept. 4 saying that the Joyce agency could also receive a quote, though he said Eastern should receive the quote if only one is allowed because Eastern was the first to contact the county.

Petrilla said such authorization letters will be written for any agents who are experiencing difficulty obtaining quotes from carriers.

Skrepenak said he contacted Travelers and was advised that the company will release only one quote, which he thinks is unfair to the Joyce agency.

Payne said Monday that the county hadn’t purchased insurance from Travelers in many years.

“They (Travelers) were looking forward to an opportunity that they haven’t been afforded in the past,” Payne said.

Skrepenak said commissioners should release comprehensive specifications and allow all agents to access past claims history – nothing else.

“The first-come, first-served basis shouldn’t concern us,” he said. “It’s up to the underwriter and agency to fight for the business.”

Skrepenak also pointed out that Payne is on the county prison board.

He believes Payne has a conflict of interest because his prison board votes could be swayed by interest in obtaining the county contract. The three commissioners sit on the prison board along with Payne and Wister Yuhas.

“There’s something going on here that smells fishy,” Skrepenak said.

Payne said he votes independently on the prison board and resents any implication otherwise. He said he is assisting a sales representative who is preparing the proposal for county insurance. If Eastern’s proposal is chosen, Payne said he will ask prison board Solicitor Jim Blaum if there’s a conflict of interest with him remaining on the board.

Skrepenak said he plans to contact Blaum about the matter. He also wants to determine if Blaum was consulted about the letters to Travelers, saying Blaum had advised him in the past that commissioners should not get involved in providing quote authorizations to potential bidders. Blaum could not be reached for comment Monday.

The county is seeking proposals for property, inland marina, general liability, automobile, crime and fidelity insurance. The current policies expire Jan. 1.

The county is currently paying $856,000 for property, general liability, automobile, crime, public officials’ liability and equipment breakdown insurance through the Joyce agency, with coverage provided by the Housing & Redevelopment Insurance Exchange, or HARIE.

Skrepenak is a close friend of Chuck Volpe, who serves as attorney for HARIE. Skrepenak has stayed at Volpe’s beach house for free, but Volpe and Skrepenak have emphasized that there’s no question of favoritism because the county insurance is bid out.

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