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Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • Column: City could use a little more transparency

  • The City of Wellington probably made the right move in giving the hospital $880,000, but it spent too much time talking about it privately, instead of letting the public know what was going on.
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  • It might have been a bit of a surprise last week when the city agreed to give the hospital $880,000, and to forgive months of utility bills.
    It’s no secret that the local hospital is struggling, as are many hospitals in small towns in Kansas and around the nation.  There has not been much public discussion of the hospital, except for city officials saying it needs to be supported in public meetings, which is why the move was a bit of a surprise.
    The world of hospital finance is very complicated. There are state and federal monies involved, insurance companies, private pay and other things. Then there is the Affordable Care Act, which makes for even more complications.
    I spoke with the hospital director at length this week about the hospital.  A story will be coming very soon. While the hospital does struggle, there are some plans in place that could help the situation.
    They have hired a surgeon, and he is still getting settled. They are trying to change some legal titles or designations, that could also help a lot with finance. They are taking on issues, and director Leonard Hernandez believes they could turn the corner with continued support and hard work.
    The hospital had support from a sales tax but that expired at the end of last year. The money the city gave the hospital makes up for that to some extent. They may approach voters again for a sales tax for the hospital, but Hernandez wanted to see how the hospital would do without it, instead of just asking voters to renew it without question.
    The city owns the hospital but does not run it. Even so, the city is heavily involved and feels an obligation to help. Despite what some conservatives say, the role of government is to do what is best for the people being governed. Government should look out for the greater good, and having a hospital is in general good for the city of Wellington.
    The  $880,000 is a lot of money though, and it takes about half the city’s reserve funds. That will have to be made up in some way.
    The only thing that bothers me is the fact that nearly all the discussions have been held in executive session, or in private meetings.
    This is legal, because even though the city owns the  hospital, it does not run it. The board that runs it can be considered a private business, and its financial matters could fall under “proprietary information and trade secrets,” which is legitimate executive session material.
    While the state gives exceptions to open meetings, the state never requires that there be any closed meetings at all. There are times when a closed meeting is a good idea, but those should be the exception and not the general way of doing business.  Just because you can does not always mean you should.   
    Page 2 of 2 - While city officials generally do a good job, they could also benefit from more transparency in their dealings.
    James Jordan is editor at the Wellington Daily News. He may be reached at jjordan@wellingtondailynews.com

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