Insurance chief seeks apology in Balto. County

Redmer says staff worked nonstop for Isabel victims

December 19, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Maryland's insurance commissioner said yesterday that his staff deserves an apology from Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who suggested Tuesday that the state wasn't doing enough to resolve insurance coverage complaints by victims of Tropical Storm Isabel.

Flanked by more than 50 Insurance Administration employees at a news conference, Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. gave an 18-minute description of the efforts his staff has made on behalf of Isabel victims. He said his staff has worked nonstop to resolve insurance problems in the wake of the storm and considers the executive's complaints "absolutely outrageous."

"If anybody understands politics, I do, and I understand [public relations], but at the end of the day, he can criticize anybody he wants, but don't criticize the people of this agency," said Redmer, who was a state delegate and insurance sales executive before Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed him to his current post.

No apology was forthcoming yesterday from Smith, who had referred to Redmer as "aloof" and "remote" in his response to Isabel victims.

Smith's spokesman, Damian O'Doherty, reiterated that the executive hired Redmer's predecessor, Steven B. Larsen, to conduct a review of the insurance industry's response to the storm in an effort to determine why so many storm victims have had difficulty getting their claims settled and whether any state laws or regulations need to be changed to prevent similar problems in the future.

The county will pay $24,000 for the investigation.

Later in the day, the executive released a statement repeating the explanation he gave for the study when he announced it Tuesday.

"Baltimore County's focus is on the victims of Isabel. In this day and age, with a sophisticated, competitive insurance market, there is no justification for the magnitude of uncovered loss that occurred in Baltimore County," Smith said in the statement.

County officials have estimated that more than 3,000 homes will have to be repaired and another 326 will probably have to be torn down and rebuilt because of damage from the storm.

Redmer said that the recovery from Isabel is the highest priority for his office and that his staff has been working around the state to help resolve problems for victims, whether they had insurance or not. Of 1,249 complaints the administration has received, Redmer said, 1,221 have been resolved, the vast majority of them to the consumer's satisfaction.

As for his personal response, Redmer said that he has attended countless meetings with victims and visited their homes to see the destruction and lend a hand.

"I challenge any elected official to provide information where we did not respond to any request," Redmer said.

He added that since late October, he and his staff have been conducting the sort of review Smith has commissioned. He said he anticipates recommending legislation to the General Assembly in the coming session as a result of the review. Smith's contract with Larsen, he said, is redundant.

"As a taxpayer in Baltimore County, I'm not excited about $25,000 being spent on anything already being done by the state government," he said.

Smith said Tuesday that even if Larsen is duplicating work the state is doing, he has far more confidence in the previous commissioner than he does in Redmer. Smith said then that he attended town meetings with the commissioner in the aftermath of the storm and was disappointed in how he responded to victims' concerns.

"With the comments he's made, with how he responded to people at the meeting, would I have confidence in a study he's engaged?" Smith said Tuesday. "I would have serious doubts."

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