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Officials debate $11K advance for $7K savings

June 27, 2012 - There's no doubt the decision is saving the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) money, but some officials worried what would happen if it doesn't work out.

Last week, the DDA board voted 5-2 to amend Director Madonna Van Fossen's employment contract to pay her a lump sum of $11,000 up-front on July 1, so she can purchase her own private health insurance coverage.

The DDA currently pays $17,919 to cover Van Fossen and her family through the village's medical insurance. Having her covered under her own $11,000 private plan would save the DDA nearly $7,000 annually.

DDA Chairman Don Sherman noted that Van Fossen is essentially giving up approximately $7,000 worth of benefits she's currently entitled to in order to save the DDA that money.

"By her doing that, she's helped our balance sheet," he said.

But some officials were concerned about advancing Van Fossen such a large sum to cover an entire year, which she hasn't yet worked. They worried about recovering the unused portion of the $11,000 should, for example, Van Fossen take a job elsewhere or be terminated at some point.

"So, if you were going to get (the $11,000) on July 1 (and) if you quit on July 2, we'd have to hope that you would pay that money back?" asked DDA board member Bill Dunn, who also serves as Oxford Township Supervisor.

Although she informed the board that she has "no plans" to leave her current position, Van Fossen noted the amended contract has a provision that covers Dunn's concern.

It reads, "If the contract is terminated, the employee shall be obliged to refund $916.66 for each remaining month in that fiscal year."

But to Dunn, that was still no guarantee that the DDA would get its money back.

Dunn indicated he'd be all right with paying Van Fossen on a monthly basis for her insurance, but not for an entire year in advance.

"I wouldn't be in favor of paying $11,000 up-front, not knowing how long you were going to be working," he said.

Van Fossen indicated she wouldn't receive a deal on the medical coverage if she paid for it monthly.

"I would prefer to pay it all at once because I believe you get some sort of a discount when you pay it up-front like that," she explained.

Dunn wasn't alone in his opposition to this payout.

"Since when is this board responsible to pay her an advance for an insurance policy that she should get on her own if she wants it?" said village President Tom Benner, who also serves on the DDA board. "She chose to opt out of the (village) insurance policy on her own for the savings . . . This board is not obligated to pay her in advance for one year. There's no company I know of that would ever pay an employee $11,000 in advance."

Like Dunn, Benner also favored paying Van Fossen on a monthly basis.

Van Fossen was taken aback at the suggestion that she could possibly leave the DDA for another position soon after receiving this $11,000 payment.

"I don't know that in the four years I've worked here that I've given you any reason to insinuate and/or believe and/or think that I would do something unethical like that," she said.

Van Fossen hoped that her four years of service, her "integrity" and the fact that she lives in the village would count for something. "All I have to give you is my word and my contract," she said.

Dunn noted he would have the same concerns "about anyone" making such a request.

"This has nothing to do with integrity," he said. "This is business."

"I'm not trying to beat you up," Benner said. "I would be this way with anybody, Madonna. It's not you. I don't have a thing against you. It's business."

"You or anybody else, I would not pay them up-front for one year," he noted.

Benner questioned what would happen if three days after receiving the $11,000, Van Fossen was killed in an automobile accident.

"What would happen (to the money)?" he said.

Resident Sue Bossardet, who once served on both the DDA board and village council, expressed her concern over the fact that Van Fossen did not present the DDA with any paperwork concerning this private policy she wishes to get.

Van Fossen told the board she left the paperwork at home, but she would be required to provide the village with a proof of insurance.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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