Phoebe slam dunks budget after closed meeting - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe slam dunks budget after closed meeting

July 12, 2006

Albany --  Despite its claims of being open with hospital information, Phoebe Putney Hospital's refused to discuss its 2007 budget publicly today before approving it.  Board members conducted their entire budget discussion in a closed meeting.

Hospital CEO Joel Wernick says during the hour board members were in executive session, they spent about half the time talking about the budget. When the session ended, members of the media and non-board members were allowed back in as the board voted to pass the budget without further discussion.

David Hudson, General Counsel for the Georgia Press Association, says the Board's action was a clear violation of the open meetings act, and board members broke the law.

When asked why the board felt like it was necessary to discuss the entire budget behind closed doors, Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick said "The Board just decided to do that for discussion of competitive and strategically valuable circumstances."

We asked Wernick if he didn't think it's important for people to know what went into the 26 pages in the budget. "Well, I think the information speaks for itself, and the information that's available to the public for that perspective."

Wernick says the board typically discusses the budget behind closed doors.   

According to the Georgia Open meetings Act, public boards can go into executive session to discuss specific issues that may deal with competitive issues that would hinder their success-- personnel, or real estate acquisition.   

In this case, the meeting should have been re-opened for discussion of other portions of the budget including room rates, pay increases, and profits.   

Any person who knowingly and willfully conducts or participates in a meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act can be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined up to $500.   

Phoebe attorney Rick Langley  was not in the meeting, but he says the board has been educated on the law, and he believes the board would only have discussed parts of the budget not for public consumption.   


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