Back in December, Henry Raymond III drove a 2000 Audi Quattro across the new highway construction on Lincoln Avenue, hitting a bump that managed "to puncture a hole in my oil pan" that caused the oil to drain all over his driveway.
The damage necessitated the towing of the vehicle to a repair shop, according to a December 16 claim that Raymond submitted to City Hall.
Raymond asked for reimbursement for the $470.60 repair tab because poor conditions on a city road caused it.
What typically happens in these sorts of cases is that they are investigated by the appropriate agency and then the tab is, if justified, paid.
First stop for the claim was a three-person Claims Committee that consists currently of city Councilors Mike Rimcoski, Ken Cockayne and Cliff Block.
Raymond said that Rimcoski told him to come in and bring pictures.
The panel took a look at the claim and rather than sending it on to the state Department of Transportation, which would probably bear responsibility since it's building the highway there, it opted to pay Raymond his money.
“He gave a very strong case,” said Rimcoski, who chairs the panel.
Raymond said he told the chairman, “I don’t want any special favors.”
The committee decided to pay the claim on a 2-1 vote, with Block in opposition.
“It was not a city claim,” Block said. “It’s obvious.”
“In these times, I do not feel like giving our money away,” Block added.
Raymond said he felt betrayed by Block, who told him to his face that he deserved the money but voted against giving it to him after Raymond left the session.
The claim payment was included among the items listed on the consent agenda for January's City Council meeting, which is generally reserved for things that nobody has a problem with. They are routinely passed unanimously.
Had that happened, Raymond would have received the money he asked for.
But at the council meeting, Rimcoski said he wanted the claims removed from that part of the agenda, opening the door to discussion of it in more detail and the potential of an up or down vote on the money for Raymond.
He didn't say why, but once the item got yanked off the consent agenda, it was promptly sent back to the Claims Committee on a unanimous vote.
“Questions were raised,” Rimcoski said, so he agreed to reconsider the issue. “Rather than have any questions raised, we moved it back to committee.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, councilors unanimously agreed to forward Raymond's bill to the state, which may pay it.
Cockayne explained his changed vote as a way to correct a mistake.
“I didn’t have my facts correct” the first time around, Cockayne said. “We corrected the erred decision” when the claims panel got another chance to look into it, he said.
Rimcoski said that if Raymond was the first person to complain about the bump, he might get shut out. It seems that the state – and city, too -- will probably pay if it already had reason to know about the problematic spot.
Adding to the speculation surrounding this issue is that Raymond, who's considered a genuinely decent guy, is a Republican stalwart.
So, too, are Rimcoski and Cockayne.
Block is a Democrat, as is the rest of the City Council.
But was there an attempt to do a political favor? That’s not clear.
Raymond’s claim appears typical and there’s no indication he did anything wrong.
But the committee’s handling of the case was, at least, unusual.
Yet in the end, Raymond didn’t get any money from the city and, so far, hasn’t gotten any from the state either.
He said he doesn’t see a problem of any sort – except for partisan politics getting in the way of serving the people.
“They’re just trying to hit the Republicans,” Raymond said. “This is what’s wrong with politics.”“Let’s stick to the real issues. Let’s work like we should for city taxpayers,” Raymond said.
Update on Thursday:
Just to make sure the whole picture is available, I called city Councilor Craig Minor, who wound up calling back and talking to reporter Jackie Majerus.
Minor said that city Councilor Cliff Block called him after the Claims Committee met last month.
"He was troubled by something that had occurred and wanted to talk to me about it," said Minor.
Minor said claims panel had a longstanding practice of not paying out on the first claim about a pothole or other road problem. Using that logic, if it happened a second time, a claim might be paid, because the city would have been on notice of a problem.
But the first person to encounter it is simply out of luck.
"Our position is, we didn't know about it," said Minor.
Henry Raymond was the first to report that particular problem on Lincoln Avenue, said Minor. Had the committee followed its normal process, it would have told Raymond, sorry, but the city isn't paying.
"In this case, they approved it anyway," said Minor. "For some reason, they didn't follow the procedure in this case."
After speaking with Block, Minor said he phoned Councilor Ken Cockayne, leaving him a message.
He got a call back from Councilor Mike Rimcoski, said Minor, who defended paying Raymond's claim. [Cockayne said that he called Rimcoski, the chairman, to tell him about Minor’s interest.]
Minor said he told Rimcoski that if Raymond's claim went on the claims report for automatic payment, he would object.
As a result, "Mike took the Henry Raymond claim off the report," said Minor.
Rimcoski invited Minor to the next Claims Committee meeting, Minor said. At the meeting, the committee revisited Raymond's claim, Minor said, and reversed its initial decision.
The fact that the incident with Raymond's car happened on a state project, said Minor, complicates things. He said the claim belonged with the state or its contractor, where the committee ultimately advised Raymond to take it.
"It wasn't our fault in the first place," said Minor.
As for whether Cockayne and Rimcoski were doing a favor for a friend by initially approving Raymond's claim, Minor said he couldn't know what they were thinking at the time.
"That's not for me to say," said Minor.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org