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Editorial: A time for transparency

IN OUR OPINION

Ocala, FL - March 14, 2012

Published in Ocala Star-Banner on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.

Like any drama, political dramas have a number of subplots. Take, for example, the ongoing conversation about Munroe Regional Medical Center's future.

The central plot unmistakably is whether to pursue a hospital tax to help keep the award-winning hospital publicly controlled or to either sell or lease it long term to a private corporation, thereby relinquishing community control of the 114-year-old hospital. Either way, hospital trustees have to address Munroe's long-term financial status.

But before either of those decisions is made, a smaller and related drama will play out as the Marion County Commission votes to fill two seats on the seven-member Marion County Hospital District Board of Trustees, which oversees Munroe's management and will ultimately decide its fate. The terms of current trustees Kulbir Ghumman and Dr. Srisha Rao are up on June 30, and the commission will name their replacements.

Who the commissioners appoint could weigh heavily in the hospital's future.

It is early in the process. The commission has not yet formally sought any candidate, although local lawyer Randy Klein has already submitted an application. Because it is early, the commission has an opportunity to act in an open and transparent manner that ensures not only the best candidates are selected but that the public has some input in advisory board appointments that uncharacteristically have high community interest and community impact.

The County Commission's last Munroe trustee appointment was last June, when retired sales manager Larry Strack was named. The board conducted its interviews in private, then cast its votes in private, never letting the public in on the candidates or its reasoning for Strack's appointment until after the decision was made โ€” made by secret ballot, we might add.

Overlooked in that process was Larry Cretul, a former two-term county commissioner and former speaker of the Florida House, who not only was not considered but was not even given the courtesy of an interview by four of the five commissioners โ€” Commissioner Mike Amsden is the only commissioner to interview Cretul.

Needless to say, because of the high stakes involved Munroe supporters accused the commission of taking the first step toward stacking the hospital trustee board with anti-tax, free marketers who will support the sale or lease of Munroe.

Compounding questions about the commission's motives was its passage of a June 2011 resolution that forced the trustees to do their "due diligence" or face removal from their seats if they did not "(ascertain) all reasonable and viable options to the current operating framework of the Hospital District" โ€” in other words, did not consider selling or leasing the hospital to private outfits.

Yet, the commission does not even hold itself to minimum standards of openness and transparency on such major appointments that could affect not only Munroe but the community's quality of life.

County Commissions in the past were more open about advisory board candidates, their discussion about those candidates and their votes. It is time to return to such practices. Give each applicant a fair shot and conduct the public's business in the public so the citizenry can participate if it wants.

And there is no better place to start than with the upcoming appointments to our public hospital's board of trustees.


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