Shamokin bills county for $1,220 for Clausi's requests
SHAMOKIN - A $1,220 bill was sent from City Hall to Northumberland County commissioners seeking payment of legal costs stemming from Vinny Clausi's request for health care insurance information for Shamokin's elected officials.
The requests under the state's Right-to-Know Law were made via e-mail, mail and fax by Clausi through the commissioners office. With that, City Clerk Steve Bartos said the bill belongs to the county instead of Clausi alone.
In a Feb. 22 letter to the commissioners regarding the bill, Bartos wrote, "Although additional costs were incurred by the city in the way of man hours to process the four requests submitted, we are only seeking repayment of our legal costs at this time."
He requested repayment within 30 days from receipt of the letter.
Clausi says he has no intention of having the county pay.
"I'm not paying no bill," he said Monday. "They can take us to court."
Clausi made Right-to-Know requests on Nov. 13, 14, 27 and Dec. 18. He says he did so as a commissioner on behalf of three city residents who feared retribution if they requested the information themselves, and believes that the information should be made public because it involves public funds.
He sought specific costs for elected officials and their relatives enrolled in the city's health care plan at various intervals dating to 2006. If they waived insurance benefits, Clausi asked if they were compensated with a waiver check.
All four requests for information specific to an individual were denied by Bartos, the city's Right-to-Know officer, on the grounds that the information would violate privacy regulations. Bartos pointed to opinions both by the city's health care provider and a representative of U.S. Health and Human Services that supported his ruling.
Bartos did provide to Clausi aggregate amounts highlighted in city budgets over the past four years, along with general information on benefits offered under the health care plan.
Group benefits for council members, the mayor, controller, solicitor, community development officer and a secretary are lumped into one line item in the 2013 budget, according to Bartos. It totaled $121,901 for health, life and vision.
Both Mayor George Rozinskie and Councilman Michael Snyder declined health benefits in 2012, as told to The News-Item on prior occasions. Rozinskie confirmed Tuesday he also declined health benefits in 2013. Attempts to confirm that with Snyder were unsuccessful.
Bartos also answered Clausi's request for cell phone costs for the mayor and councilmen: the total, including projections for 2013, being $1,187.16 for Rozinskie. No councilmen have cell phone bills paid by the city, according to records included in Bartos' reply.
Clausi appealed the city's last rejection to the state Office of Open Records in December. That's when the city turned to a law firm with which it was already working to assist on the appeal, Barley Snyder of Harrisburg. The firm reviewed privacy regulations and the Right-to-Know Law and advised the city on such. It also filed a response to the appeal outlining an argument for denial. Its invoices for the work totaled $1,220, according to an e-mail to the city from the firm.
Bartos says the law provides avenues to recoup costs related to Right-to-Know requests, and it's city policy to charge for copies, postage and legal fees, but the city has sought only legal fees.
Clausi's appeal eventually was denied by the state due to a filing error, but there have been other cases involving health care cost records for public employees. (See separate story.)
Fellow Commissioner Stephen Bridy has followed Clausi's lead, filing a Right-to-Know request for the same information to the city on Feb. 20. That, too, was denied and was termed a "serial filing" and a "waste" of time and resources by Bartos in his reply letter.
Bridy filed an appeal with the state Tuesday. If it's rejected, Clausi suggested the county could sue the city. "We could get our solicitor to take them to court," he said.
There is an alternative option Clausi could pursue to acquire the information. According to Bartos, Clausi could ask each elected official individually to sign a waiver releasing the information.
Bartos said his office has spent ample time on the requests and responded to each one in detail. "I have more than a full week responding to this; at least 35 hours, at least," he said.