The Times Free Press reports that the Erlanger Health System governing board in Chattanooga plans to hold a new meeting to reconsider $1.7 million in executive bonuses it approved last year.
With little notice, the board voted to award the bonuses after discussing them in private session. The surprise decision rankled state lawmakers in Hamilton County because they came after support for funds for the hospital, and after cost-cutting that affected the hospital staff’s rank-and-file.
The Open Meetings Act, which applies to public hospital governing boards, requires deliberations to be in public. The Attorney General issued an opinion last week affirming that the board’s deliberations about compensation would not fall under a limited exception to the requirement for open meetings carved out for public hospitals when they are devising strategic marketing plans.
The Times Free Press story on Erlanger on Saturday reported that the hospital board’s chairman, Donnie Hutcherson, wrote to state lawmakers after the AG’s opinion was announced, saying, “we believe it would be in the best interest of the public we serve to have an open discussion at the February 26 board meeting about each of the four resolutions presented in December.”
Here is an excerpt:
(Trustee Henry) Hoss — whose very first board appearance was the controversial Dec. 4 meeting — said he still hoped to make peace with lawmakers and felt that re-doing the meeting was crucial to rebuild trust with the public.
“I want a special-called meeting and invite the public in to give us their two cents’ worth, and get it all out on the table,” Hoss said. “Let the complaints come out, and give the board members an opportunity to justify whatever actions they take. We want to do right by this decision. We should have held all of that discussion in front of the public in the first place.”
Hutcherson’s letter also said hospital leadership plans to add a resolution to create a bonus system that will include hospital associates, “based on the same criteria as management.”
Miller said she was also interested in a do-over vote, but added, “I’m not going to be intimidated or coerced.”
The legislative appointee to the board, local attorney Gerald Webb, was not asked to resign, according to delegation members. He was the one trustee who voted against the bonuses.
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who originally requested the AG opinion, said he had qualms with the tone of Hutcherson’s letter. In particular, Carter said he took issue with a sentence that stated, “Based on the discussion in the open meeting, our intent is to reaffirm the Board’s earlier actions.”
“Why should they know what they’re going to do ahead of time?” Carter asked.
On Friday, Hutcherson said “reaffirm” was a poor choice of words, and the letter should have said the board’s intent was to open the issue back up for re-evaluation and discussion before holding another vote.
Carter later said he didn’t “think anybody intended to break the law.”
“[Trustees] don’t get paid, and they’re beating their brains out trying to understand the ins and outs of hospitals,” he said. “But the question for everybody needs to be, ‘How do we put Erlanger first?’ Not the board, and [not Erlanger CEO] Kevin Spiegel first. But the hospital.”