In response to our recent article, Taxpayer Dollars Used to Pay Medical Insurance Premiums for New Rochelle Board of Education President David Lacher claims that a person inside City Hall “fed” his personal information to Talk of the Sound. This is not the case.
Lacher told me about his obtaining medical insurance through the District at the SEPTA dinner a year ago. I have no idea why he would have done that, especially given our history, but he did.
Here is what happened.
Last spring, I attended the Special Education PTA "We Are One" Dinner at the Greentree County Club. I was a candidate for the Board of Education. In a conversation with David Lacher, he told me, unsolicited, that he was getting his insurance through the district, that it was saving him a lot of money, that the board knew about it and that the board had approved it.
Unaware that elected board members are allowed to participate in the district's medical insurance plan, I thought it sounded improper -- or that it was not true at all. I was even concerned that maybe Lacher was giving me misinformation, hoping I might repeat it and thus discredit myself as a candidate. In any case, I decided to set it aside.
Months later, going through some old notes, I recalled the conversation and set about to determine whether what Lacher had told me was true.
For many years, the District has improperly denied all of my Freedom of Information requests (a story for another day) so it has been necessary for me to ask third-parties to make FOIL requests for me. For purposes of this article I will refer to all FOIL requests as coming from me.
A FOIL request was made for a list of all persons who get medical insurance through the District in November, 2013. On December 2nd, the District provided a list that did not include David Lacher or any other board member. Attempts to cross-check the District information through the State of New York were unsuccessful.
By January, I had a dilemma -- Lacher was saying he did get his medical insurance through the District but the District was saying he was not getting the insurance.
I decided to try a different tack, to bring it up out of the blue at a meeting on Live TV and see what sort of reaction I got.
The next Live TV board meeting, the First Budget Input Session on January 21st, was cancelled due to a snow storm. The Second Budget Input Session scheduled for February 13th was postponed until February 26th due to a snow storm.
It is within this context that I raised the issue of Lacher's insurance at the Budget Input Session held at the New Rochelle High School Library on February 26, 2014.
At the time I was unaware that Lacher owed money, only that he had told me he was getting the insurance and that the District provide a list under FOIL omitting his name from a list of persons insured through the District.
Given what we know now, his reaction to my question about his statements at the SEPTA Dinner take on new meaning: (1) Lacher was not paying for his insurance and was seven months behind on his payments to the District; (2) he had been warned repeatedly that his insurance was to be terminated retroactively leaving him responsible for paying all claims that had been previously covered by the insurance; (3) that his total debt had risen to $13,488.06; (4) that he is the only board member to ever enroll in the District's medical insurance program.
UNOFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT (emphasis added):
ROBERT COX: "In the course of that conversation, unsolicited, Mr. Lacher, for reasons that weren't clear to me, also told me that he was getting his health insurance through the school district, that it was saving him a lot of money, that the board knew about it and that the board had approved it. So, my question is were the four things that you told me last Spring true?"
DAVID LACHER: "I don't remember the conversation, the fact of the matter is that board members are permitted, and this is not going to be a dialog but you have chosen to raise an issue, just because it shouldn't hang out there, board members are allowed by state law to participate in the health care program of the school district, however, let's be very clear, 100% clear, board members who participate pay 100%...there is...unlike the teachers and the contributions and all of that, board members who participate are required to pay 100%...there...former board members have participated as well, there is nothing illegal about it, actually doesn't require board discussion, doesn't require board approval, I said nothing of the kind of what you're talking about. It's a fact that I went on the school district health care system but, again, unlike teachers, unlike administrators, unlike anybody else, and I'm not the only present or former board member who ever has done it and I did it once before then I went off when I was able to get coverage through my wife, board members pay 100% of the cost, there is not one dollar that is taxpayer subsidized for board members who participate and we don't get any of the union things either, so there's no dental and no some of the other stuff, just the basic health plan. So, I don't know what you're talking about and it's not going to be about you and me and I think our time is going to be done, this is about the budget and I don't really know what the relevance of this is but the answer is, it's not on taxpayer money, it's not part of budget, it's not part of tax levy and that's the end of the discussion. You can print whatever you want to print 'cause your going to do it anyway. So, that's all."
ROBERT COX: OK. I'm not clear what you are objecting to. I think you're agreeing that you told me that you were getting the health insurance.
DAVID LACHER: I don't know where the rest of this comes about, approval, and I don't know what your suggestion is and what your implication is and whether there is a suggestion that somehow a board member's getting a benefit on the taxpayers. We do not, none of us. We get a parking space in City Hall, that's what we get, otherwise we're not compensated, that's well-known in the community, and that's all I have to say.
Lacher's confirmation that he was on the District's medical insurance plan re-opened the question of the list provided under FOIL in December which omitted his name and led to a series of events over the next month.
On February 26th, Lacher paid $3,000 of his outstanding balance, possibly just after the board meeting when I asked about his medical insurance. That balance increased again when the March premium came due. Lacher then paid another $3,000 on March 6th.
Over the next few weeks, inquiries were made to determine why Lacher's name was not on the list provided under FOIL in December.
In the days preceding March 24th, I spoke with Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff and contended that given the false fill of the FOIL request in December an immediate production of all records related to Lacher's medical insurance was warranted. Korostoff agreed that an amended FOIL request would be accepted as if it had been filed in November, that it was this late and should be expedited.
This discussion also caused Korostoff to get involved so that he personally reviewed records with staff working under John Quinn.
Korostoff determined that there are three benefits available to Board Members: (1) the option for a Board of Education member to participate in one of the District's health insurance plans; (2) the option for a Board member to participate in the District's dental insurance plan; and 3) the opportunity for a Board member to join the Educational & Governmental employees federal credit union.
Korostoff reported that he was told the omission of Lacher's name from the list was inadvertent, that the employee in Data Processing who prepared the list retrieved the information from the Finance Manager data system, which only includes data on present and former employees and that the Benefits Office did not review the list before it was sent and so did not realize the list was incomplete.
On March 18th, Korostoff stated that he requested a printout of all employees, active and retired, who are currently participating in the District's Health Insurance plans. What he received was only the list of active employees, again, not including Lacher. Korostoff attributed this, the creation of yet another list without Lacher's name, to a programming error. He then made yet another request for the correct list, with Lacher's name on it. No such list was ever provided, prompting a new, amended FOIL request.
The account of the list given to Korostoff is suspect for two reasons.
First, there were three requests made for list, one by me and two by him, and a list with Lacher's names was never delivered under FOIL to this day.
Second, FOIL requests sent to the New Rochelle School District are copied to the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration and the President of the Board of Education. David Lacher and John Quinn would have known the request was made, known Lacher should have been on the list and thus that Lacher's name was omitted -- all raising the serious question of whether Lacher and/or Quinn may have tampered with the FOIL response in some way.
On March 24th, Talk of the Sound submitted a new FOIL request for all records for David Lacher's insurance going back two years.
That same day Liz Saraiva, the Board of Education Clerk, sent an email to David Lacher informing him that Dr. Korostoff wanted to speak with Lacher about the insurance records. A discussion then took place between Korostoff, Lacher and Jeffrey Kehl, the outside counsel for the school district.
Based on a legal opinion coming out of that meeting, Korostoff ordered the release of Lacher's insurance records, over Lacher's objections that providing the records violated his privacy.
On March 31st, Liz Saraiva sent notice that the records would be available on April 10, 2014.
April 10th became a pivotal day.
Shortly before the District office's closed at 5 p.m., the District Clerk sent notice that the records were available.
At some point on that same day, David Lacher made four payments totaling $9,202.25 to bring the account current as of March 31, 2014.
Later that evening, Lacher sent an email to his board colleagues. Talk of the Sound has since made a request to obtain a copy of the email under FOIL.
While I have yet to see the email itself, based on what board members have been saying, there is no doubt that Lacher presented a gross mischaracterization of the situation.
The records were picked up at City Hall on April 11th. I wrote the story on April 12th but held up publication.
Over the weekend of April 12-13, I made repeated efforts to reach out to the board, with numerous phone calls and emails to Deidre Polow, an email to Lianne Merchant and, finally, an email and text message to David Lacher.
I took the unusual step of offering to allow Lacher to review the article before publication. I informed him that I could not recall having ever made such an offer before but that given the potential impact on him, I wanted to give him every opportunity to correct the record or dispute some aspect of the article.
Lacher responded. He requested a copy of the article. He also made the false and irrelevant assertion that there was a "source inside city hall who fed you my personal information". As I have explained above, my source was David Lacher.
The District's invoices and payments are always public record and any personal information was redacted so there is no privacy issue here.
The most pressing question right now is "What did board members and administration officials know and when did they know it?"
There are a number of other serious issues that need to be addressed.
This is not, as Lacher, claims, a personal matter. David Lacher was eligible for medical insurance through the City School District of New Rochelle only because he was an elected board member. His premiums were paid by the taxpayer. His outstanding balance of many thousands of dollars was funded by the taxpayer and the imputed interest on what amounted to a loan was funded by the taxpayer.
Lacher was already five months behind on his premium payments, over $10,000 in debt to the school District, when he successfully sought election as President of the Board of Education. It appears he failed to inform his board colleagues of this when he sought the position of Board President.
There would appear to be little doubt that the only reason Lacher's medical insurance was not terminated this winter, as threatened, is because he was President of the Board of Education.
Lacher has repeatedly claimed that other current board members were also enrolled in the District's Group Health Insurance plan. This is not true.
Lacher has repeatedly claimed that past board members were enrolled in the District's Group Health Insurance plan. This is not true. Quay Watkins was enrolled in the Dental Insurance program up until three years ago.
The repeated failure to produce a list of persons enrolled in the District's Group Health Insurance plan that included David Lacher raises serious questions about the falsification of business records subject to a Freedom of Information Law request.
John Quinn effectively granted Lacher an unauthorized revolving line of credit funded by taxpayer dollars. The arrangement between Quinn and Lacher raises serious questions about the board's ability to function in an oversight capacity with Lacher dependent on Quinn to repeatedly pay Lacher's insurance bills using District funds, extending Lacher credit and retaining the ability to retroactively terminate Lacher's insurance at a moment's notice.
I will address this last point in a subsequent article.