After Tamir Rice Billing Debacle, City Crafts Confusing Policy Change

In the wake of a public-relations SNAFU in which the City of Cleveland filed a $500 creditor's claim to the estate of Tamir Rice for emergency transport services, Mayor Frank Jackson is trying to make good on his promise to address "the process" he hinted was at fault.

"When you get into a bureaucratic routine," Jackson said Thursday, "there's always things that slip through the cracks." 

Except the policy change outlined Friday in a memo to all city personnel handling or processing licenses, permits and insurance claims (much like the city's press conference Thursday) generated as many questions as it answered.

"Effective immediately," the memo read, "any license, permits, insurance claims, and/or invoices of any type, along with all pertinent documentation, whether opened or closed, that may be subject to potential court activity must be submitted to a Commissioner and/or Assistant Commissioner within two business days."

After it's submitted, a review and "a written response regarding next steps" is required by the Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner. 

"These steps," the memo meaninglessly mandated, "will include clear instruction as to the appropriate process."

The appropriate process? The appropriate process for what? Within two business days of what? What does pertinent documentation mean? Couldn't any invoice or license or permit or insurance claim be subject to potential court activity? And why on earth does this apply to claims and permits and invoices that have already been closed? 

Our confusion wasn't  shared by city employees. 

"At 8:30 this morning," the city said in a statement, "all employees within the departments of License and Assessments and Law were briefed on this policy change and signed a copy acknowledging that they have read and understand this policy change."

The city's chief legal counsel, Rick Horvath, when we sought clarity regarding the policy's language, said that the policy was clear to the employees who work in this area. 

"When an employee is aware that a license, permit, insurance claim, or invoice involves or could involve court activity, the commissioner and assistant commissioner must be notified."  

Right, got it. But again: Couldn't any of these things potentially involve court activity? Short of mysticism, how can all these licensing employees foresee any/all potential court activity, especially when, in the course of the routine, "things slip through the cracks"? 

It's anybody's guess what effect this policy change will have — looks like more red tape, at first blush; one thing it certainly does do is obfuscate the city's proactive role in filing the $500 claim.

At Thursday's press conference, Mayor Jackson stressed that the insurance claim had indeed been closed, and it was only re-opened this week because the executor of Tamir Rice's estate requested documentation.  

But the Rice family lawyer, Subodh Chandra, took that logic to task.  

"The suggestion that that the estate-administrator sending a routine public-records request to the city about a child's death would then result in the city filing a court claim—particularly when the city's own police officers killed the child and the claim is already time-barred under Ohio law—makes no sense to the Rice family," Chandra said in a statement Thursday.  

Chandra called Jackson's insistence that the city never billed the Rice family an "unprecedented non-sequitur."  

And on Friday, Chandra hammered the city yet again, calling the "so-called policy change feel-good, bureaucratic gobbledygook that has nothing to do with what happened—namely that Tamir Rice's estate (that is, effectively, his family) faced a $500 creditor claim by the city in court for EMS service that was necessary only because another city employee fatally shot the child. Medicaid had already paid EMS, and trying to collect the balance may be Medicaid fraud, because Medicaid requires its payments to be payment in full—the provider can't go ask for more. The city didn't just try to collect the supposed balance—it tried to collect even that which Medicaid had already reimbursed it. And the city did so long after the six-month statute of limitations had elapsed, so, from the Rice family's viewpoint, the filing was an exercise in harassment.

"The actual policy change should be a directive to cure bad judgment, inhumane treatment, and incompetency. But that's what led to Tamir's death in the first place."

Cleveland's Finance Director Sharon Dumas said yesterday that the city had received a partial reimbursement from Medicaid in the amount of $172.90. The remaining $327.10 for Tamir's emergency transport was then absorbed by the city "and then the matter was closed."

They probably wish it had stayed that way. 
Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.