A steep increase in insurance costs spurred a blame game among Orange Township trustees earlier this month.
The board of trustees agreed to renew the township's liability and property insurance and risk management services during its meeting June 2, at roughly a $15,000 increase from last year.
Board President Debbie Taranto said Rinehart, Walters, Danner Insurance considered not renewing the policy with the township, because the company saw Trustee Lisa Knapp's online presence as a liability.
"I don't agree with the online presence of Ms. Knapp. I don't agree with the type of blogs and statements and misinformation and, in my opinion, actual lies that she puts online," Taranto said. "But what I'm most upset about is the risk that it has put (on) the township."
Knapp maintains a blog about the lives and culture of township employees and other trustees. Her blog asserts the township has had an environment of bullying and harassment since 2007 and has spent more than $100,000 on investigations against her. Her goal is "to shed light on the truth about Orange Township officials."
Knapp said during a meeting with the insurance company and the trustees May 27, the company never said the premiums increased directly because of her. The company did express concern about the township in-fighting, she said.
"At no point has the insurance company said this is my fault. It was the other trustees saying that," Knapp said. "At no point did they say at the meeting on May 27 that it was due to me. They said the better solution is to solve the problem."
Rinehart, Walters, Danner Insurance did not return phone messages for comment. However, in an email provided by Knapp, Jennifer S. Johnston, vice president of underwriting at Hylant Administrative Services, which is the underwriter for the township's policy, said the increased costs are due to "additional loss activity/frequency, exposures changes, claim trends, legal climate, market conditions and underwriting judgment as relates to the potential for loss going forward."
The board voted 2-0 at its June 2 meeting to renew the insurance policy. Knapp was not present at the meeting.
Fiscal Officer Joel Spitzer suggested the board table the renewal until all trustees were present, but the board moved forward since the policy was set to expire at midnight that day.
The premium rose from about $69,000 to $83,717 -- a 21 percent increase. The trustees' liability deductible increased from $5,000 to $100,000. The policy changes also exclude coverage for lawsuits between public officials.
"I'm not happy about having such an increase in our liability insurance, but it's something we can't do without, especially in this atmosphere," Taranto said.
"Unfortunately, the circumstances of why it has increased is a detriment to what we're trying to accomplish in cutting costs," Trustee Rob Quigley said.
Knapp said she has no plans to shut down her blog, even if it could cause premiums to decrease, because it is her duty to inform residents of the truth.
"I don't think the premiums would go down," Knapp said. "I'm not going to take any of it down. You can't kill the messenger.
"It's my job to tell the public who can't be at every meeting and who can't see what is going on. It's my job to keep them informed about what's going on," Knapp added. "I was elected to represent the residents and that's what I think I'm doing."
Pool passes: offline only
Despite the parks department's efforts, the township has been unable to establish online registration for passes to the North Orange Aquatic Center.
All three trustees agreed the situation is unacceptable.
"We've certainly made lots of efforts to make this a smooth process, but we can't seem to make it a smooth process," Taranto said during the June 2 meeting. "Frankly, the matter is, in this day and age, it's really unacceptable to do everything by hand and to require residents to come into the offices to get their pool passes, and to not do it online efficiently."
Taranto said parks department leaders began working on establishing online registrations for swim lessons in October, but it still wasn't right and had programming errors.
Knapp said after the meeting she is surprised the township still doesn't have online registration.
"That's a huge inconvenience for the residents," Knapp said.
As the township moves forward on its plans for a community center, which likely will have a pool, Quigley said officials will have to find a way to establish online registration.
"From the time I've been here, it's been a very slow process and a very painful process to take that step," he said. "It does concern me because, here we go, ready to take the next step with the community center, but we're still having issues handling pool passes."
Quigley gave the parks department until December to decide on an appropriate online registration method.
"If we're going to offer these amenities -- a pool, passes and swim lessons -- we really need to get up with the times," Taranto said. "We need to make their experience as good as possible, as simple as possible and as easy as possible."
In other pool news, college students and recent graduates who are dependent on their parents now can be a part of the family pool pass option at the aquatic center. Previously, anyone 21 or older had to buy a separate pool pass.
The board this week changed the maximum age to 23 for a family pass.
Walker Wood update
The new playground at Walker Wood is nearly finished.
Maintenance and Parks Director Beth Hugh said the weather will dictate when the park, off Walker Wood Boulevard near Freedom Trail Elementary School, will be finished, but it's in the final stages.
Bike racks, grills and benches will be installed soon as well, Hugh said, at a cost of $6,952.