State Attorney Mike Satz should investigate board’s vote for interim CEO.
May 13, 2017
Broward Health desperately needs a strong chief executive who can make principled decisions, shore up lagging revenues and change the culture of a public health care system long viewed as a political fiefdom that favors family and friends with contracts and jobs.
Yet this past week — almost a year and a half after the suicide of the hospital system’s former CEO — Broward Health commissioners chose yet another interim chief executive, their fourth.
And in playing to type, they tapped one of their own: Commissioner Beverly Capasso, a former hospital administrator who is friends with the system’s controversial general counsel, Lynn Barrett.
Worse, the board put Barrett in charge of negotiating the contract.
Even worse, Capasso voted to give herself the job, which could pay as much as $955,000 a year.
So much is wrong with this scenario, it’s hard to know where to start.
But let us start by calling on Broward State Attorney Mike Satz to investigate whether it was legal for Capasso to vote to give herself the job. To us, the Florida law on voting conflicts seems clear. It says: “No county, municipal or other local public officer shall vote in an official capacity upon any measure which would inure to his or her special private gain or loss.”
In addition to state law, Broward Health’s conflict of interest policy requires commissioners to act in the organization’s best interests, “unaffected by a personal interest in any decision they are in a position to affect.”
When the roll call began and Capasso’s name was called first, Commissioner Christopher Ure tried to tap the brakes. “You can’t vote on that,” he told her.
But Barrett interrupted to say Capasso could, indeed, vote to name herself interim CEO. Rather than cite state law, she cited Robert’s Rules of Order, which guide how meetings are conducted. So long as Capasso was on the board, the general counsel said, she could vote for herself, just like someone could vote for himself or herself to be chairman.
What head-scratching legal advice from Barrett, who once came close to being fired amid complaints from doctors, staff and several commissioners. We’ve criticized her, too, for flawed advice on open government matters and out-of-control spending on law firms with ties to Gov. Rick Scott. Many people have told us that Barrett contributes to much of the chaos at Broward Health.
It’s hard to imagine Barrett is right — that a commissioner of a taxpayer-supported hospital system can vote to give herself the top job. If it is legal, then it needs to be made illegal. Public servants shouldn’t be allowed to use their public positions to feed at the public trough.
Even if the legal advice was sound, Capasso should have recused herself. Failing to do so showed terrible judgment. The person who seeks to run a public hospital system with $1.6 billion in annual revenues should demonstrate she’s her own person, a chief executive who will listen to the advice of counsel but make up her own mind. Such a person is especially needed now at Broward Health, a place described as badly in need of leadership, including someone who will challenge Barrett, who many see as the defacto CEO.
Capasso has held some big jobs, no question. She was senior VP and CEO of Jackson Memorial Hospital, the flagship of Miami’s Jackson Health System, for a year and a half. Before that, she was chief administrative officer of Cleveland Clinic Florida for 10 years. Her resume shows she’s helped run hospitals since 1985.
Twice in recent years, Capasso has applied to run one of Broward Health’s five hospitals, but wasn’t selected. Neither did her name emerge last year in the district’s nationwide search for a CEO. So it appears her colleagues never would have chosen her, or known about her, except for her proximity as a member of the board.
The unfortunate part is that Capasso’s vote wasn’t even needed. The other four commissioners all supported her selection. (Gov. Scott continues to leave two seats unfilled.)
Yet as so often happens at Broward Health, you get the sense this move was orchestrated behind closed doors.
Closed-door culture continues
We first heard rumors that Capasso would be selected interim CEO about a month ago.
Then on Monday, Chairman Rocky Rodriguez opened the meeting by saying he had an important issue to discuss. Interim CEO Kevin Fusco had announced sudden plans to retire May 26. Rather than “cannabalize” the staff by temporarily promoting someone else, Rodriguez asked Capasso if she’d be willing to step off the board and become interim CEO. He made clear, however, that whoever “becomes the interim will not be allowed — because that’s always been our policy — to apply for the permanent position.”
Capasso thanked him for the vote of confidence and said she would only do the job on an interim basis.
As the Sun Sentinel’s David Fleshler reported about the meeting, board members engaged in virtually no questioning of her background, her work experience or her likely approach to the job. No one asked whether anyone at Broward Health had talked with her previous employers about the quality of her work. Rather, the majority of the discussion concerned how long she would be in the job and whether she could return to the board after a permanent CEO is hired.
After the meeting, Capasso told Fleshler the proposal had come as news to her. But during the meeting, when asked if she could do the job for six months, she said: “So, when I hear this, I saw it on the agenda, so I did think, do I want it to be six months? I don’t. But will I make it six months? … Absolutely, I would see it through.”
While the agenda mentioned the selection of an interim CEO, it didn’t mention her name. So, how did she know she would be the candidate? To us, her answer to Fleshler is hard to believe.
As Capasso and Barrett prepared to leave together, Fleshler asked if they were friends.
“Barrett refused to say,” he reported. “Pressed, she said, ‘I have a constitutional right not to answer’ and kept walking. Asked the same question, Capasso said, ‘I have lots of friends.’ Eventually she acknowledged Barrett as a friend but refused to answer further questions, saying to the reporter, ‘I don’t think you have my best interests at heart.’ ”
A constitutional right not to answer? What public official says that? Why are they afraid to admit they’re friends?
Major reorganization on horizon
These two women are about to guide Broward Health through a major upheaval. Commissioners are also talking about spending up to $15 million to hire the KaufmanHall management consulting company to reorganize the district’s structure and way of doing business.
KaufmanHall spent the past three months examining operations and interviewing stakeholders, including bond rating agencies. Two of its leaders briefly presented their findings at last month’s board meeting. They said Broward Health’s financial position is below industry and regional norms, has declined from historic levels and needs improvement.
Beyond that, they offered little detail. If you were sitting in the audience, you’d have had no clue they were suggesting a $15 million turnaround plan. We asked the district if the contract will be put out to bid, but never got an answer.
It was clear the consultants had fully briefed each commissioner in private. In fact, Capasso publicly asked not a single question about their findings. Yet this firm’s work is a big deal. It could affect a lot of people’s jobs. The results deserved a thorough public vetting. Indeed, commissioners threw away last year’s CEO search, which cost taxpayers $300,000, to first get this report. Apparently, the firm thinks it can improve Broward Health’s financial performance by 5 percent, or $60 million a year.
So suddenly, the board was moving to draft an engagement letter to hire the firm. That’s when Rodriguez, the chairman, made clear his concerns about matters not yet publicly aired.
“I supported KaufmanHall to conduct a 60-day assessment that has transformed into a non-budgeted, multimillion dollar expense for Broward Health, while we’re $9 million in the red and facing up to $30 million from the state cuts.”
“It looks like we invite them to dinner, now they want the key to the house,” he said. “This process has not been properly vetted, lacks transparency and we have no idea if and when other reductions were made to other important programs to accommodate this outrageous endeavor. In addition, we could hire more than 15 CEOs for the pricetag of the Kaufman project. Kaufman continues to tell staff and me that we need them here because we will not find a CEO for at least 18 months.”
The price of 15 CEOs? Eighteen months? What’s going on here?
The skeptic in us sees how this could play out. After guiding the district through upcoming changes, board members will turn to Capasso and say there’s no need for a national search, their next CEO is sitting right there.
However, commissioners said Monday they wanted to push ahead with a search. First, though, they want to hire a firm to help them avoid the Sunshine Law requirement that candidate names be revealed. The company will accept and vet the applications, do background checks and keep everything hush-hush. Barrett told commissioners this dodge — our word, not hers — would allow the district to keep names private until finalists are chosen.
We shall see.
It was ironic, really, to hear the KaufmanHall consultant say Broward Health’s reorganization roadmap must “include transparent communication and meaningful community input.”
We tried to talk to Broward Health leaders, but were unsuccessful.
Had we reached them, we’d have urged them to quickly proceed with selecting a permanent CEO, someone strong, accomplished and untethered to the district’s political gravy train.
Perhaps a major reorganization is needed. Perhaps a management firm would help, though like any multi-million dollar contract, this one should be put out to bid.
Unquestionably, a permanent CEO should lead any transformation effort, not be brought in after the fact.
If the district is losing money and market share, something must be done.
But the people of this community — whose taxes have paid to build this hospital system over the last 70 years — would have greater confidence if Broward Health leaders put an end to their closed-door culture and stopped looking like they’ve got something to hide. [READ MORE]