by Pam Zubeck
One thing is clear: Jan Martin has swallowed the Kool-Aid.
After something of an uproar in the community about certain members of the City Council's task force on Memorial Health System being excused from following the Sunshine Law, Martin, the task force chair and Council president pro-tem, is sanctioning just such an arrangement.
In fact, she, Council member Brandy Williams and task force member Doug Quimby, who is part of the Regional Leadership Forum, met privately during the past week to interview two consultants, one of whom will be chosen to walk the task force through drafting of a request for proposals, among other duties, Martin said during the task force meeting Friday morning.
The meetings weren't posted ahead of time, and we assume no minutes were taken. Martin noted during the meeting the final decision rests with the task force's four Council members. Those are the only people on the task force who can vote, but a bunch of other people, including doctors, three from the Regional Leadership Forum, the mayor and others are considered task force members.
What she said: "In this particular case, because of the short timeline, it makes it very difficult to work efficiently and effectively when every meeting (of three or more members) requires 24-hour notice."
That sounds an awful lot like what Regional Leadership Forum member Phil Lane told us to describe why he didn't want to be considered a member of the task force.
Martin went on to say, "I can guarantee that the decisions that rest with this group will be made right here in this open room." But, one might legitimately ask, how will the constituents know how the task force arrived at those decisions? Sometimes process is as important, if not more so, than the actual decision itself.
But, oh well, it doesn't look like those advocating for adherence to the Sunshine Law — including 1,087 doctors, nurses, Memorial employees, business people, volunteers and other concerned citizens who have submitted a letter urging transparency — will get their way.
When Memorial trustee Jim Moore asked if discussion of the RFPs would be held in an open session, Martin at first said yes, but then stopped herself and said she couldn't answer that question yet.
She later said City Attorney Patricia Kelly was out of town Friday so she didn't attend the task force meeting, but she does plan to attend next week's meeting and further explain the advice she gave to Martin about allowing the task force members all the advantages of membership to the panel, except voting, which means they don't have to follow any of the requirements of open meetings laws. Open meetings laws require public bodies to post meetings 24 hours in advance and make meetings open to the public, go into closed session only for certain specified reasons, such as personnel items and real estate negotiations. The laws also bar more than two members at a time from meeting.
Quimby said Friday he didn't consider himself a member of the task force, though he sat at the table and asked questions during the three-hour discussion while audience members were not allowed to participate. The reason for not being called a member: He wasn't appointed by Council.
Complaining about the "more than two" rule, Quimby says it prevents having "a discussion among ourselves" without notifying the public. Well, yeah. That's the point of the law.
"That means we have to do all our work here on Friday," he said. "That means it's going to take two years instead of four months."
Martin hinted that the city attorney's opinion differs from that of Steve Zansberg, a Denver attorney and open-meetings laws expert, as reported in this week's Indy linked above.
Earlier in the meeting, consultant Larry Singer, who advised the Citizens Commission empaneled by the Council in January 2010, let it fly about the issue of trust.
"This ultimately comes down to a value proposition," he said. "It will be dollars versus other values.
One thing that's been difficult ... there's a lot of misinformation in your community, a lot of unhealthful comments being made, a lot of untruthful facts getting out. For some reason this community is very untrusting. I've tried to plumb those waters a bit, but it's really starting to interfere with what's going on in a serious way.
"I think you have good people around the table. I think you've got good lawyers. I think this can be done right if people will let it. If they don't take potshots and trust the integrity of the folks around the table.
I've never been involved in a process like this where there's been such a high level of distrust. If you don't agree on the values, this process will go nowhere.
"You figure out what's important to you and then figure out the best way to achieve it. I'm concerned that you're getting off on the wrong step.
"I think we have to just trust that there's some good integrity in here. I think we do have that at this table.
People are not going to agree with what you decide, because the values are in conflict. You're getting to a situation where you're going to very seriously harm your asset, because the medical community will walk.
You've got to instill confidence, rally together and stand up and say, 'This is it, this is important, this is the right thing to do,' and leap, and sort of move on.
The proposed lease around which most of Friday's discussion pivoted was written with the idea the hospital would be leased under a privatization arrangement in which the health system would be run by a nonprofit group and make minimal payments (some such leases require only $1 a year) to the city. Previous talks proposed $5 million at the beginning of the lease and at least $1 million a year.
But there's another type of lease: one based on revenue stream. This, Singer said, would apply to a for-profit leasor, which would be interested in taking the profits out of the community.
Those different types of approaches led to Singer's speech about value judgments, in which he said it will be impossible to achieve all things — monetize the hospital but retain all services, such as high levels of charity care and all services, regardless of money-losers.