Residents perplexed with insurance letter endorsed by city
A letter from Claremont mayor Larry Schroeder extolling the benefits of an insurance service has left Claremont residents confused.
The letter, from SLWA Insurance Services, offers Claremont homeowners optional coverage in the event a breakage or bursting of the home’s lateral water line. The property owner is responsible for the line, the letter noted, and would be covered for a small fee if they signed up for the service.
But it was an endorsement from Mr. Schroeder and the presentation of the mailer as a city letter that left Claremonters scratching their heads.
Mr. Schroeder, reached after Tuesday night’s city council meeting, said he didn’t personally sign the letter, and was out of the country when the mailer was sent out to residents.
“What I didn’t know is my name would be on that letter,” he said. “I did not sign that letter; it was a facsimile signature.”
The three-year agreement with SLWA was reached back in June 2017. It authorized the company to use the city’s logo on letterheads, marketing materials, advertising and billing to residents, according to the agreement. The agreement also allowed SLWA to use the signature of a “city official” in their letters as well.
“They didn’t specify who they would use, so naturally they picked me,” Mr. Schroeder said.
The agreement allows SLWA to conduct up to three campaigns per year, comprised of up to six different mailings. The language of the letter claims that “no public funds” were used for the mailing of the letter, and at the bottom of the letter claims SLWA is “an independent company separate from the city of Claremont.”
But the letter also came in an envelope with only the city’s logo on the top left corner and no mention of SLWA Insurance Services on either side, adding to the confusion.
Ms. Handel noted she did not know how the city’s logo was going to be presented, or how SLWA got a hold of Mr. Schroeder’s signature.
The city recently passed an ordinance in 2017 to copyright the city logo. Mr. Schroeder said the city let SLWA use the logo because it would “legitimize their offer.”
This was a claim corroborated by Myles Meehan, an SLWA spokesperson.
“The SLWA partnership agreement with Claremont allows the company to use the city logo in communications to indicate that there is a formal relationship in place and to let residents know that the offering is legitimate,” Mr. Meehan said in an email. “It is for the residents’ benefit and has the approval of the city.”
The text of the letter itself, which was framed as written by Mr. Schroeder, was actually crafted by SLWA and several city officials, including former City Manager Tony Ramos, Ms. Handel, Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor and the community services department.
Mr. Meehan noted the mailers are approved by the city before they are sent out, a claim corroborated by Mr. Schroeder and Ms. Handel.
“We said they could use a city official and we could review [the letter], and we did review it, but I guess there’s nothing that would force them to take our suggestions,” Mr. Schroeder said.
Ms. Handel noted the city and SLWA went through about four iterations of the letter before it was sent out to residents, later adding that about two-thirds of the city’s changes made it into the letter.
She also said over 400 cities across America have the same partnership, and use city partnerships as a way to better get the word out to residents.
Mr. Schroeder wasn’t happy with his signature being used, and expressed a personal opinion that a city official’s name should not be used in a mailer such as this one.
“In retrospect, it really made it look like I was selling this product,” he said.
But he stood by the service itself, claiming it would be a good option for Claremont homeowners looking to safeguard themselves in the event of a lateral pipe burst.
“To avoid the cost of possibly replacing the laterals, we offered this insurance,” Mr. Schroeder said.
Language in the agreement hold the city and its elected officials “harmless” from any third party claims, damages, losses, expenses, suits, actions, decrees, judgments, or any other act as a result of a breach of the agreement by SLWA or a “fraudulent act or omission” by the company in the performance of services.
Mr. Schroder mentioned the city received no revenue or benefit whatsoever from the agreement and city staff was in contact with SLWA to make sure they could review the letters going forward. Ms. Handel said the city had an issue with how the letter was presented, saying they would not allow the mayor’s signature to be used in the future.
“We expressed clearly our displeasure with how it’s presented and that’s very misleading and confusing,” she said.
Mr. Schroeder said it was a “lesson learned” and the city has to now be more specific on how they authorize city materials from now on.
“Next time around, we just need to be more careful with this stuff and have more control over what goes out,” he said.