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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Injured officers, Atlanta City Hall, and NovaPro

You can spend all day wagging your finger at Atlanta Police Union chief Sgt. Scott Kreher for his inappropriate comment last week. You know, the one he said at City Hall about wanting to hit Mayor Shirley Franklin in the head with a baseball bat?

You can debate whether Kreher's frustration over delayed compensation claims to five injured Atlanta police officers forgives such an outburst by a 17-year veteran of the force.

But to do all that does nothing to address the problem that Kreher says has festered in City Hall, one that's reportedly led to back-and-forth legal challenges and injured officers allegedly being stonewalled for medical treatment.

What this issue needs is a little bit of sunlight. Let's take a quick look at the contracts the city's signed — and re-signed — with NovaPro Risk Solutions, the San Diego-based company that's handled employees' compensation claims since 2004, back when it was known as Ward North America Inc.

Just so, you know, we're up to speed when this issue comes back up for discussion.

In May 2004, the city approved a two-year deal with Ward North America Inc., a third-party compensation claims operator, worth $815,875. The purpose? Outsource the city employee compensation claims process. (According to the AJC's coverage of the story, the process prior to the contract was a tangled mess. Even now, the city's chief financial officer says, it's complex.) Councilmembers C.T. Martin and Mary Norwood voted against the resolution. Although the legislation says advertisements were placed to solicit bids from other companies, the resolution doesn't specify exactly who, if anyone, submitted a bid. (View the legislation PDF here.)

In August 2006, City Council unanimously renewed the contract with Ward North America Inc. for two more years. This time, the deal was for a whopping $1,554,300 per year — nearly quadruple the first deal. The legislation also says Ward North America Inc. was about to be sold, but that the sale wouldn't interfere with the contract. (View the legislation PDF here.)

In January 2009, Ward North America Inc. had since changed its name to NovaPro Risk Solutions. The City Council unanimously renews the contract. This $777,150 deal was for six months, on month-to-month basis or "until another vendor is accepted." (View the legislation PDF here.)

City Council renewed the contract with NovaPro this month. The annual cost of the three-year deal steadily rises from $1.19 million to $1.26 million. (View the legislation PDF here.)

Kreher apologized for his outburst and been suspended "indefinitely," pending the results of a psychological evaluation. Franklin dodged the issues that prompted Kreher's comments. The city still faces a shortage of police officers to patrol the streets.

The city should explain why it continued to hire NovaPro and whether the million-dollar deals with the San Diego-based company actually saved Atlantans money. What was the communications process between Michele Walker, the city's compensation administrator, and NovaPro? Most importantly, City Hall should address the injured officers' allegations and ensure that city employees' valid concerns receive prompt and respectful treatment in the future.

Neither the city nor NovaPro had answers to the AJC's questions. A Franklin spokeswoman tells CL the mayor will be briefed on the NovaPro issue later this week.

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