On Monday night, the was at it again. Authority Manager, Jackson P. “Jack” Berry, sprung on the Board and the public a request that the Authority Board send a letter to the Florida legislature requesting that the Sunshine Law; Public Records Law; Sale or Lease of a Public Hospital Law; and the Confidentiality of Hospital Records and Meetings Law be changed for them. The Board wants to keep from the public the value of its public hospital and its discussions to sell it until after it meets in secret to seal a deal. It also wants to keep the plan secret.
In November, Attorney General Pam Bondi put the kibosh on the Authority’s first attack on the Sunshine: keeping the valuations and its plan secret as part of the Authority’s strategic plan. Manager Berry never brought this to the attention of the Board, at least in public.
It appears that after that failure, Manager Berry, with the help of Koby Adams, Board member and Representative Elizabeth Porter’s Chief Legislative Aid, the process began to get the laws changed. Monday night at the Authority meeting, nobody volunteered that information.
However, the Lake City Reporter, the County’s good ole’ boy print newspaper and county cheerleader, wrote: State Rep. Liz Porter, R-Lake City, has submitted a preliminary proposal in the House to allow health care facilities trying to sell or lease a hospital to hold private meetings about it.
The LCR also wrote: Koby Adams… said Porter is offering the proposal in order to “facilitate the sale of the hospital [Shands at Lakeshore].”
Mr. Adams did not say this during the meeting. This is another case in which the Lake City Reporter is representing information as if it occurred at a public meeting, when it did not.
Board Chairperson Chancy handed the discussion over to Berry
When the meeting was gaveled to order, no one announced any additions to the evening’s agenda. Gov. Scott’s appointed board doesn’t believe in that.
Chairperson Chancy began, “Is there any old business? [Silence] OK. We’ll move to new business. We have a Florida statute with strategic planning that we need to talk about — Jack.”
Manager Berry jumped right in (as spoken), “It will be Florida Statute 390.3035 that does not allow in the strategic plan. It does not accept sale of a hospital for a shade meeting [meeting closed to the public]. We’d like to get the board to request that the legislature provide legislation to add sale of a hospital to it. It’s got purchasin’ of hospitals and medical facilities, but it actually doesn’t have a sale to exempt it for shade meetings.” [FL Stat. 390 addresses termination of pregnancy. The Board’s new attorney let it pass]
Board member Dr. Waseem Khan wanted to know how that was done.
Manager Berry said, “The legislative assistants told me at the board we send a letter to the legislature and they will draft legislation to add it.”
Board member Janet Creel, asked, “How long will that take?”
Manager Berry answered, “Hopefully we can do it this session. We’ve got to get it in this next week in order to get it in this session.”
No one mentioned that Rep. Porter purportedly had this in the works. Manager Berry announced, “I need a motion to approve it. Mr. Koberlein will take care of the draft.”
Fred Koberlein replaced Marlin Feagle as the Authority Attorney.
Long time Board member Marc Vann made a motion to “allow strategic discussions about the sale of the hospital.”
“Why are we doing this?”
Board member Stephen Douglas asked, “Why are we doing this? Do we not have a meeting scheduled for February to have an open meeting for this discussion?”
Manager Berry, a republican operative, answered, (as spoken) “We do. However, everybody pretty much thinks that there ought a be changed in the future — if we should get to the future down the road, now’s the time to change it.”
Mr. Berry did not volunteer who “everybody” was. No one asked.
The Authority’s accountant – financial advisor – auditor, all one person, Richard Powell, opined about adding a long term lease to the language and it was added.
Fred Koberlein: New Authority Attorney as Advocate
Attorney Koberlein mentioned that he spoke with the House (unintelligible) last week. Mr. Koberlein then advocated for the change in the law. He suggested that the Board couldn’t do its job with the present law, “You almost have an arm tied behind your back,” he said.
Attorney Koberlein continued, “Mr. Feagle asked the Atty. General’s Office: can we meet to discuss these valuations in private in order to maximize the public’s benefit when we go out to sell, if we do sell? The Attorney General’s office said no. You have to meet in public and therefore any potential purchasers will know all the [unintelligible] almost minimizes any benefit you have in negotiation power.”
The Attorney General’s opinion does not say anything about Mr. Feagle asking about private discussions of valuations to “maximize the public benefit.” If he had it, Manager Berry did not release Mr. Feagle’s letter.
Mr. Koberlein continued, “At this point in time we would be asking the House, or the legislature in total, to consider exempting a portion of the state law — meaning the valuations — from public disclosure until we’re done negotiating.
Mr. Murphy said, “The valuations are public already.”
Mr. Koberlein opined, “… That won’t necessarily help us in the short time, but if we don’t sell, we’re going to have to do it in the future. Then it will help us in the future.”
Mr. Murphy followed up, “The meeting in the shade is really not to discuss the valuation of it, it’s a strategy of how…”
Manager Berry cut him off, “It’s the entire process. It’s the strategic plan and the entire process.”
Mr. Adams explained that they would have to get a sponsor in the state senate; it would go through committee. He told the Board, “The possibility of it being out of this session is a good possibility.”
Mr. Douglas said, “It’s fine if it doesn’t hold up the process.”
Mr. Berry said it wouldn’t.
The motion passed unanimously. Mr. Koberlein will draft the letter asking the legislature to add the exemptions for the Hosp Auth.
An end run around the Sunshine Law: Added expense
When the hospital lease came up, Attorney Koberlein said he would contact each board member individually. He gave no reason why this would or could not be discussed with everyone at the next Auth Board meeting.
The County taxpayer supported Authority will have to pay Mr. Koberlein seven times for his explanation, rather than once.
Manager Berry announced that there will be a workshop after the next Board meeting on February 9. He did not ask Mr. Koberlein to explain the lease there.
He told the Board, “The financial advisor will be in town that day on Monday and we’ll be probably meeting with each board member individually, or he will, before the meeting.”
Mr. Douglas inquired about the time of the advisor meetings.
Mr. Berry said he would be “setting up appointments with each of them next week.”
Mr. Douglas asked, “And the [financial] advisor will be meeting with us one on one prior to that?”
Manager Berry answered, “Yes.”
To ask the legislature to change the Florida statues just for them may be incredible.
Playing post office with Board members (meeting with them one at a time) is clearly designed to keep the discussions out of the Sunshine.
Blatantly ignoring SB 50, which gives the people the right to speak on items coming before the Board for action, is nothing new for the secretive Jack Berry and the LSHA.
Columbia County – The legend continues.