The Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) is searching for a new insurer: the district’s office manager told trustees that the district’s insurance would be cancelled August 31 — earlier than the contract’s end date — and later negotiated with the insurer to allow the policy to end on October 1.
The insurer, Allied World Specialty Insurance, will not renew the district’s policy and even attempted to end it early due to “the risks with bad publicity and risks involved with our past management,” Clara Bernardo, the district’s office manager, said in an email to trustees.
The first email, sent after the close of business on August 30, stated that the cemetery district’s insurance would be cancelled the following day.
“As of September 1, 2021, we will no longer be covered under Allied World Specialty Insurance Co. (Walter Mortensen Agency). We are being non-renewed for 10/1/21 but they are canceling us early. Which means our coverage ends 8/31/21,” wrote office manager Clara Bernardo.
“I also tried to get an extension with our current company and they will not extend,” she added. “I have reached out to over 12 insurance companies. I am still waiting to hear from three. The others will not pick us up.”
Although the “Notice of Cancellation of Insurance” was mailed to the district office on July 21, the trustees were informed via email on August 30.
By close of business on August 31, TPCD had managed to negotiate with Allied World Specialty Insurance to honor their original agreement and cover the cemetery through October 1 with a possible 30 day extension. But the insurance company made it clear in no uncertain terms that they will not renew the policy.
“Because we will still need a new company since our insurance company does not want to continue with us past [the] extension due to the risks with bad publicity and risks involved with our past management,” Bernardo stated in an email to trustees.
Is the Tulare Public Cemetery District uninsurable?
The cancellation notice stated, “The reason for cancellation is willful or grossly negligent acts which materially increase the risk(s) insured.”
“We issued, per the state statute at least a 30-day midterm cancellation, which is allowed under certain situations, which we feel this risk qualifies. Please see below articles that have been published in the last several months,” a follow-up email from Allied stated.
The Valley Voice articles listed, along with articles from two other publications, revealed an array of problems with the district making it an unacceptably high risk business to insure.
An article on the Grand Jury cited by Allied documented, among many other problems, the district’s difficulty in conforming to the Brown Act and irregularities in finances. The grand jury report suggested that the Tulare County Board of Supervisors should have provided more oversight of the district and recommended the district conduct an independent forensic audit covering the last five years, which the district has not done.
Other articles cited by Allied document former manager Leonor Castaneda’s alleged incompetence during her three and a half year tenure as manager while trustees Xavier Avila, Steve Presant and Jim Pennington approved pay raises and increased vacation time; Presant at one meeting went as far to promote Castaneda as “the CEO of Tulare Public Cemetery District.”
During the same time period, seven employees were fired from TCPD increasing the district’s exposure to litigation and necessitating payouts and severance packages.
TPCD Board Chair Avila was named along with Castaneda in a wrongful termination lawsuit by former groundskeeper Brian Viera. Viera stated in the article that he no longer wanted his job back because of the toxic work environment.
Several articles cited by Allied also document disinterments and resulting settlements that had to be paid for mishandled remains and misplaced bodies.
Tulare Cemetery Staff – Mum’s the Word
Even though the cemetery came within hours of losing its insurance the cemetery office staff denied any problem.
A concerned member of the community said they inquired with the district’s secretary, Phyllis Schneider, about the potential loss of coverage.
“I don’t know anything about insurance being cancelled… We have burials scheduled and have been doing them every day… I don’t know anything about insurance, but I’m sure if it is something we need, we have it,” Schneider said, according to the community member.
“I work here, and I have never heard anything about insurance,” she added.
Bernardo told the same concerned citizen on September 1, “I don’t know where that is coming from at all. I don’t know what information she (concerned citizen’s elderly relative) was given, but we have long-term insurance, and we still have it from the same carrier that we had from last year. We have actually had them for a while.
She continued by telling the concerned constituent not to worry about the insurance.
“It’s not an issue.”