Monday, September 12, 2011

City attorney OKs secret meetings of task force

Posted By on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 12:36 PM

Martin
  • Martin

Task force chair, Jan Martin, president pro tem of the Council, says City Attorney Pat Kelly supports her desire to consider Regional Leadership Forum representatives and other people invited to the Memorial Health System task force table as members but not to require them to follow the Open Meetings Law.

A Council task force is preparing a request for proposals that will lead to bids from non-profit and for-profit health care outfits to run city-owned Memorial. The task force has created a controversy by allowing the Regional Leadership Forum, a local business-oriented group, and Mayor Steve Bach to participate on the task force but not adhere to the open meetings law.

Forum members on the task force are Doug Quimby, Phil Lane and Chris Jenkins, who with his father David largely funded the strong-mayor campaign that ultimately led to the election of Bach.

Here's Kelly's opinion, sent to Martin last Wednesday, Sept. 7:

A question was raised last Friday about who was actually on the Task Force. The Motion by Councilmember (Marv) Bennett stated, in part, “…with the collaboration of the Regional Leadership Forum and the Mayor…”

I offer the following definitions from Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition:

“Collaboration. The act of working together in a joint project.”

“Appoint. To designate, choose, select, assign, ordain, prescribe, constitute, or nominate…to assign authority to a particular use, task, position or office.”

Based upon these definitions, it appears that the members of the Regional Leadership Forum, the Mayor and the six members proposed from the medical community can be “collaborated with” but are not appointed by Council to be members of the Task Force.

The import of this analysis is that the Open Meetings Law, Public Records Act and other laws applicable to the meetings of the Task Force are applicable to appointed members but not those with whom collaboration is sought.

City Council previously appointed the members of Council that serve with you: Tim Leigh, Brandy Williams and Merv Bennett. If you wish to have more members actually appointed to the Task Force, I would suggest that you submit those specific names to Marti to be placed on the next Council meeting for formal appointment by City Council.

The Open Meetings Law defines those entities who must comply in this way:

The Open Meetings Law applies to a 'local public body,' defined to mean '...any board, committee, commission, authority, or other advisory, policy-making, rule-making, or formally constituted body of any political subdivision of the state and any public or private entity to which a political subdivision, or an official thereof, has delegated a governmental decision-making function but does not include persons on the administrative staff of the local public body.

Notice that the law doesn't require the members of any board, committee, commission, etc., to be appointed directly by the council.

And First Amendment and disclosure law expert Steve Zansberg has told us that Martin's allowing some members to be at the table, receive materials in advance of meetings and do other tasks of full-fledged members means those people are members and they should follow the law.

Bach: Not interested in following the Sunshine Law.
  • Bach: Not interested in following the Sunshine Law.

Under Martin's and Kelly's interpretation, anyone except the four Council members who are considered the only members of the task force can meet secretly without giving public notice or taking minutes. That means everyone on the task force except the Council members could have a meeting about what to do.

Martin says those folks can't hijack the process, because only the Council members have a vote on the task force's recommendation to the full Council about which RFP to choose.

Which raises the question, does a meeting that includes two of four Council members on the task force constitute a meeting that requires public notice and minutes be taken?

That's what happened last week when, as Martin said on Friday, she, Councilor Williams and Quimby met privately to discuss which consultant to choose to draft and RFP. One would expect two Council members to constitute a quorum of four Council members. The law requires any meeting of a quorum to be publicly noticed and minutes taken, and, oh yes, the public admitted.

This has become a big deal, because some observers fear that HCA/Health One, a hospital giant, has its eye on Memorial and has won the ear of the business community. Quimby, Lane and Jenkins already have met with HCA, they admit.

Bach has said he's met with Kevin Walker, who represents HCA.

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