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|Hakim, Vantage bankroll Little|
Vantage Health Plan Inc. and two individuals associated with the company have contributed some $6,000 to Tony Little's campaign for mayor of Monroe, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state Ethics Board.
Little is one of the candidates who will face Mayor Jamie Mayo in the Feb. 9 primary election.
Vantage Health Plan's contributions, as well as contributions from Vantage associates, made up almost one-half of the almost $14,000 in contributions Little received, according to campaign finance reports filed for the period ending Dec. 31.
Eddie Hakim, a Monroe businessman who Little said is his partner in a company named Louisiana Stone, also contributed heavily to Little's campaign. Hakim interests donated some $3,000 to Little's bid to unseat Mayo, according to the Dec. 31 campaign finance reports.
Campaign finance reports due 30 days prior to the primary election, or Jan. 9, were unavailable at the Ethics Board Wednesday.
Little dismissed suggestions that contributors to his campaign expected political favors in exchange for their support.
"I don't have one single contributor that has asked me to do anything," Little said.
Little said Vantage was one example of a local company with whom the city could have done business but chose to search for a company without ties to Monroe to manage city employee insurance policies.
"Every member of the council and the mayor have admitted Vantage was the lowest bidder," Little said.
"They have made a $5-million investment in downtown," Little continued. "They are a local company and they provide a good product."
The city opted to become a self-insurer, meaning the city pays for the medical care of its employees while Blue Cross/Blue Shield covers catastrophic care as well as any claims that fall above the city's claims limit.
"I'm not ashamed that Vantage is supporting me," Little said. "I've told Dr. Jones that when I'm mayor I'll open it up (city employee insurance coverage) for bids."
"I don't think the city should be in the insurance business," Little added.
The Ouachita Citizen spoke with Billy Justice of Vantage Health Plan late Wednesday afternoon. Justice oversees marketing for Vantage, which is owned by Dr. Gary Jones.
Justice said Little made no promises concerning Vantage getting a contract to offer health insurance coverage to city employees if Little is elected mayor.
In a follow-up e-mail communication with The Ouachita Citizen, Justice said, "We (Vantage officials and Little) all agreed that the City of Monroe could save money and eliminate most of its deficit by offering a fully insured plan (for city employees). This kind of plan could offer better benefits at lower out-of-pocket cost to city employees."
"Mr. Little said if elected he would take the proper steps to put out a proposal for bid request for a fully insured plan for the City of Monroe," Justice said in his e-mail. "He said that the company who made the lowest bid would get the business. That's the way it should be."
"Mr. Little made no promises, and that's refreshing," Justice continued. "We need more people like him in public office."
Little's campaign finance reports filed for the period ending Dec. 31 showed Little collected contributions from the following:
• Control Services: $1,000
• Dr. Gary Jones: $2,000
• William J. Justice: $1,000
• Luv & Care: $2,000
• Monroe Surgical Hospital: $2,500
• Kevin Sumrall: $2,500
• Vantage Health Care: $2,500
(Sam Hanna Jr., publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, contributed to this report.)