|Ocala, FL -
October 23, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Marion County residents curious about the newly formed group opposing a possible property tax to support Munroe Regional Medical Center probably won’t learn much — for now, anyway.
Tallahassee-based Save Our Constitution Now is paying for radio ads, robo calls and mailers asking voters to turn down the community hospital’s request for a 1-mill property tax to supplement its operations.
Because of the timing of the group’s spending and contributions, it is not required to report how much it raised — or from whom — until Nov. 2.
Early voting starts Saturday. Election Day is Nov. 6.
The Florida Division of Elections shows that the group filed organizing documents on Oct. 5. Before Oct. 12, the organization had collected only $100 — a donation from Associated Industries of Florida, a not-for-profit lobbying group representing the interests of Florida businesses and headed by former Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney.
Oct. 19 was the deadline to report spending and contributions between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12. The group’s report for that period just shows the $100 from Associated Industries.
The next financial report, which will detail expenditures and contributions between Oct. 13 and Nov. 1, is due Nov. 2.
The group presumably has been raising and spending money since Oct. 13, because it was running radio ads and making robo calls this past Saturday and into the week.
Telephone calls to Save Our Constitution Now are answered by Associated Industries of Florida. Calls requesting an interview with Feeney were not returned.
Stan Hanson, chairman of the pro-Munroe tax group Protect Hometown Healthcare, said the lack of openness by Save Our Constitution Now is indicative of the closed-door policy that will beset Munroe if the hospital is leased to a private healthcare company.
The public hospital is owned by the state-sanctioned Marion County Hospital District and overseen by seven trustees who are appointed by the County Commission. The trustees are currently discussing with three private healthcare companies the potential lease of the 421-bed public hospital.
The trustees currently lease the hospital to Munroe Regional Health System, Inc., which is overseen by a 13-member board, some of whose members also are district trustees.
The new lease would include contracts requiring the chosen leasing company to continue to provide current levels of care, invest annually in the facility’s operations, and make $150 million in capital improvements.
Hanson said the Tallahassee group is comprised of people “who didn’t even live here …and has no compulsion to have a discussion and let people know what’s happening.”
As to Save Our Constitution Now’s silence, he added: “It should make you suspicious as to the credibility of their message.”
Protect Hometown Healthcare has raised nearly $233,000 since summer and as of Oct. 12 had spent almost $100,000, according to state elections records.
Many of those contributions were from local businesses and medical facilities and doctors.
Chuck Pardee, who opposes the hospital tax, said pro-tax supporters are trying to frighten people by pointing out that Save Our Constitution Now is based in Tallahassee and not in Ocala.
“I’m local. I’m here. They don’t invite me …when (the other side makes pro-tax presentations), Pardee said.
Pardee said Save Our Constitution Now is just another political action committee. It might even have local support.