I write in response to Mr. Allan J. Feifer's Feb. 13 letter to the editor (“Get on board with the board”) in reference to the Weems Memorial Hospital board of directors' recent decision to limit public comment to three minutes per person (or five minutes in the case of three or less speakers from the public) at the beginning of board meetings.
Most of Mr. Feifer's concerns in his letter focused on the financial stability of our hospital. There are two very important facts that need to be considered by the public. First, the Weems balance sheet/profit and loss statement reflects ambulance service as costs to the hospital and those costs are reflected as a "subsidy" from the county to Weems. It is vital for the public to understand that the state of Florida mandates that each county provide ambulance services. If the costs were not on the Weems’ financial statements as a "loss," they would appear on the Franklin County budget as a "loss." Therefore, those costs are not generally attributable to hospital operations.
Next, the hospital is making great strides in getting the financial reporting to the point that it actually reflects what I believe will be stronger than we expect, and which I am confident will grow stronger under the current leadership of the hospital. Finally, public input is not something I disregard or disdain. It is simply something that has a time and a place. Deliberative bodies all over the state of Florida structure their meetings with limitations on public comment.
Having said that, I appreciate Mr. Feifer's decision not to mention me by name in his letter; his addressing the concern he had about the Weems board's decision was gracious, and I believe it was done in order to help the public understand that this is not a personal issue between Mr. Feifer and me. I will say that I do not mind being identified personally when I have made a public comment, but I believe Mr. Feifer was being a gentleman. I appreciate that and hope at all times to reciprocate that attitude.
The reason I moved to limit public comment is the same reason that I have requested that the Weems board make an effort to follow parliamentary procedure in our meetings. We need to act as a deliberative body and use time efficiently. Following Roberts Rules of Order or some other similar parliamentary guide allows for focused, thorough and effective discussion; in fact, I am one of the most vocal members of the board of directors and parliamentary procedure can and should limit my own comments when necessary. I encourage the board's interim chair, Mr. Jim Bachrach, to make sure I am kept in line!
As to Mr. Feifer's desire to offer input to the Weems board during meetings, I believe his input is valuable and necessary in an environment where we are functioning as a county-owned facility. Every citizen, landowner and taxpayer in our county deserves the right to give input to the organizations that are responsible for directing government operations. Weems Memorial Hospital is such an organization, and I welcome public input.
On the other hand, as we move forward with the renovation and construction project that has already been mandated and partially funded by a vote of the citizens of Franklin County, there will be many decisions that will need to be made by the Weems board with the welcomed advice and consent of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners. These decisions will not be done in secret, and they will not be done without public input, but the decisions must be made, and they must be made in a timely manner.
Having explained my motives as to my motion to structure public input in board meetings, it is my intention to move at the next Weems’ board meeting that we revoke the rule which we passed. I regret the impression that I did not want public input. It is a misapprehension of my views. I value public input.
At the same time, we are well past the time where we must make the decision whether or not to move forward with the taxpayer's mandate to develop a new hospital facility. That decision has been made. Now, as a board of directors, we must, with the oversight of the county commissioners and with the help of the public, implement the directive we have received. We must build a new hospital facility and renovate existing structures in order to meet the healthcare needs of our great county and her guests.
Homer I. McMillan, II, Esq.