latte County officials acknowledge a step-brother of the county’s director of administration is involved in brokering the county’s employee insurance/benefits package and recently took part in a cursory review of the county’s human resources department after problems with payroll and benefits were discovered.
But some county officials disagree on whether the involvement of the director of administration’s step-brother could be viewed as the “appearance” of a potential conflict of interest.
Scott Hefner is employed with Bukaty Companies, which has offices in Leawood, Ks. Bukaty Companies has serviced Platte County in its current role as an insurance broker since 1999. Hefner services the account the company holds with Platte County.
Hefner is the step-brother of Dana Babock, director of administration for Platte County, who has served in her post since 2005. Her duties include interfacing with the human resources department head, and she most recently delivered the news of a demotion to an employee of the county’s HR department.
Notably, Babcock was recently accused by the county auditor of being less than cooperative when the auditor sought documents she said were necessary to audit the human resources department after problems with payroll and benefits accuracy were discovered. Babcock denies she has been uncooperative with the auditor.
In regard to her step-brother’s role with the county, Babcock said:
“Bukaty Companies is the broker, they get quotes (from insurance companies),” adding she doesn’t see the involvement of her step-brother as a conflict or improper.
“The county commission makes those decisions. A decision like that (on which firm serves as insurance broker for the county) is done by the county commission, not me,” Babcock remarked this week.
“I didn’t hire him. I don’t have the authority to hire him,” she added.
Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, acknowledged Hefner took part in a recent cursory review of the human resources department by the Bukaty Companies. The review was done after many problems with payroll and benefits were uncovered.
“We ran this by the human resources attorney and we needed to do something quickly. We needed someone who had dealt with the county and with the insurance companies,” Knight said.
Knight said she believes Babcock revealed the step-brother connection to the county’s human resources attorney.
Knight remarked that she believes the county has a signed contract with Bukaty Companies, though The Landmark was unable to acquire a copy of any contract by deadline.
“The county commission signs contracts and hired Bukaty Companies. I don’t believe that’s a conflict,” she said, adding that the county has always been extremely pleased with service from the company and from Hefner.
“Scott has been the face of Bukaty to us for many years,” Knight said.
By Landmark deadline Wednesday, Hefner had not returned a voice mail left at his office on Tuesday. His outgoing recorded message identifies him as company vice president.
The Bukaty Companies’ web site describes Hefner this way: “Scott started with Bukaty Companies in 1998 and has more than 12 years of experience in the insurance industry. In the ever-changing insurance marketplace, Scott puts forth the extra effort to ensure his clients’ needs are met. He believes in teamwork and quality customer service. He invests time getting to know his clients and understanding their unique business needs. As a result, his clients are assured the most up-to-date products and competitive pricing.
“Scott is a graduate of Central Missouri State University and was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve from 1990 to 1998.” Knight explained Babcock’s position as director of administration as one that “interfaces” with the head of human resources and other departments that come under direct county commission control.
Siobhann Williams, county auditor, paints a more active role for Babcock’s involvement with the HR department. Last week, Williams told the media that Babcock and the county commissioners are responsible for the oversight of the human resources department.
“As I understand it, the chain of command is county commission, director of administration, then all of the department heads within the county commission’s jurisdiction,” Williams said Tuesday.
“When I issued a memo once regarding an issue with HR and didn’t send a copy of the memo to Dana Babcock, she took exception to that because she said the department falls under her,” Williams told The Landmark. “If that has changed I certainly wasn’t notified.”
The auditor said human resources “doesn’t pay a bill that Dana Babcock hasn’t signed” approving payment to be made.
Williams said she agrees with other county officials that Hefner has done a very commendable job in his service to the county. She praised him for his recent work with the county benefits plan insurance companies in trying to settle matters of confusion in the HR office.
She said the Bukaty Companies’ cursory review of the HR department is appropriate. But she said that review is different than the audit her office is conducting on the HR office.
Williams said at one point last month when she was trying to obtain documents to audit HR, she was told by Babcock that she would be provided a report on the review “and that I would have to be satisfied with that.” Williams said Babcock at the time told her that a report from the review would be the only information she would be getting to aid her audit of the HR department.
Babcock, however, denies she has ever been uncooperative in helping obtain documents the auditor had requested for her audit.
Williams and others said that Hefner, in his role with Bukaty Companies, interacts with county employees every November.
“He does the open enrollment meetings. He comes and talks about what the different plans are, then employees sign up for their insurance benefit package,” the auditor said.
Williams said in addition to the broker role–for which she said she is unaware of the compensation–Bukaty Companies is the “third party administrator for the county’s flexible benefits plans, and that’s like $2,500 per year.”
A fee of $2,500 per year is below the amount required for a bidding process to be followed. Williams said state statute requires products and services in the amount of over $6,000 to go through a bidding process.
Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, said “to this point, I have not seen it as a conflict” when asked about the situation. He said Babcock and Hefner “are not blood relatives.”
Asked if the county commission could avoid even the appearance of a potential conflict by asking Bukaty Companies to use an employee other than Hefner to service the county’s account, Knight replied: “The county commission will review everything about this.”
Knight hinted that more information about the overall HR situation will be forthcoming soon.
“There are a lot of issues going on right now. There will be much more information in regard to this whole situation,” Knight said Tuesday.
Earlier this week, the county commission hired “special legal counsel” on a “confidential” matter. Knight likely was referring to that, and what may or may not come out of it, with her final comment.
At a county commission meeting on Monday, county counselor Bob Shaw told commissioners “We have a confidential legal matter in front of us at this time that needs immediate attention.”
Shaw said he had spoken with attorney Paul Seyferth on Saturday and confirmed that Seyferth could be retained at $350 an hour.
“If somebody was to ask me a question of what’s this for, what should my response be?” asked Plunkett.
“This is a confidential legal matter,” was Shaw’s response.
A review of Seyferth’s web site shows his primary emphasis is commercial and employment litigation.
“Paul has defended hundreds of discrimination lawsuits in state and federal courts. He also handles cases involving restrictive covenants, cases involving breach of fiduciary duties, and employment contract cases,” says the web site for Seyferth Blumenthal & Harris LLC.
“When not involved in litigation, he advises management in connection with personnel policies and other federal and state employment law issues,” according to the company’s web site.
Meanwhile, Williams says progress is being made on her audit of the HR department, thanks to what she says is improved cooperation since her recent press conference on the courthouse steps.
“I got what appears to be about half of the information I need on Friday,” Williams said this week. “I was told that the employee working on gathering the information was out sick, but when she returned to work I would get the rest. So yes, there is progress.”
Earlier, commissioners and Babcock said the HR department would provide copies of the requested payroll documents to Williams only after confidential information had been redacted.
“They only redacted Social Security numbers, which is kind of interesting because we already have all of those in this office because we file all the retirement reports,” Williams stated.