The more I peel back this onion the more it stinks folks and we’re not talking about chump change either. I start at the beginning of this disaster, when Singing River Hospital went hat in hand to the Mississippi Department of Health needing to update its Certificate of Need (CON).
The takeaway from the above is back in 2008 Singing River Hospital needed more office space and had vacant land available on the hospital’s campus to add a 55,000 square foot medical office building that was estimated to cost just over $13,000,000 equipped. Johnson Development of Alabama was hired to do the design and build.
Simmons also admitted bribing the county supervisor with $2,000 monthly payments from a consulting fee provided by Health Assurance LLC of Jackson. The company had a contract to provide medical services at the Harrison County jail. Health Assurance paid Simmons a total consulting fee that climbed to $10,000 a month while he represented the company from 2005 through 2011.
We’ve heard the name Health Assurance LLC here on Slabbed before and that would be here among other places. The link in that old post leads to Jackson Jambalaya and this from the very end of Kingfish’s post:
Priesters? Now we are getting into Bennie Thompson territory.
I guess the root of my heartburn comes from the retirees ostensibly paying for all the legal fees in a breach of fiduciary duty case and folks, it was not the Singing River Retirees that did the breaching. The folks at SRHS Watch have some heartburn too:
The Jackson County Board of Supervisors has allowed the Singing River Hospital System retirees’ pension to be in peril.
By spending thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on legal fees with no apparent solution, it appears the board continues to support the inept former and present hospital administration. Now, the board is attempting to shove the idea of damming the Pascagoula River down the throats of taxpayers.
The board has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees and in lobbying efforts to dam the Pascagoula to enrich a select few. Even though Jeff Bellweber claims the dams will protect the river’s flow and water level, the Pascagoula River has incurred droughts and floods for thousands of years and, like the Mississippi, keeps on meandering along. Why try to fool Mother Nature?
The question in my mind is whether there is anyone in Jackson County whose last name is not Cumbest that thinks Supervisor Barry Cumbest is not a crook? My guess is the answer is more than one but not many.
My personal hunch is a backroom deal was cut that incentivized every Jackson County Sup to support the project as well as keep it on the down low for as long as possible.
Meantime we have this from our friends over at SRHS Watch:
My wife and I are registered voters in Mr. Cumbest’s district. I’m also a former administrator at SRHS and sent a letter addressed to Mr. Cumbest (dated November 3, 2014) when the SRHS pension problems first came to light….so I am genuinely interested in Mr. Cumbest’s latest comments…..especially since he never bothered to respond to my concerns. No written response. No phone call. No followup email. Not even a canned “thank you for your feedback” letter. Nothing. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I would think that a locally-elected official would take time to at least acknowledge a thoughtful letter from a concerned constituent. If he/she can’t even manage to do that, then how much does that person really “care”?
I’m proud to have voted for Sabrina Manning Smith in the Republican primary and will be at polls bright and early on August 24th to vote for her again in the runoff. I refuse to vote for Barry Cumbest….not because I disagree with him politically…..but rather because he has shown me that he really doesn’t care about those he perceives as “nobodys”. My hope is that the “nobodys” will show up in droves on August 24th and vote him out of office.
The bat line has been ringing off the hook today with tips concerning public officials in a two state area that I would describe as simply Slabbed since it is information the public should know but which would never see the light of day in the main stream media. I am also pleased to report today that some of you guys that read these pages have stepped up in a big way today on the donor front. I appreciate the support including the very generous donation Slabbed received today from the Jackson area.
First things first, Slabbed has been covering two hospital disasters through time though one has been the slow motion variety that you good folks with SRHS reading Slabbed today are likely not familiar in West Jefferson Medical Center, its politically connected CEO Nancy Cassagne and the Parish’s attempt to privatize the Hospital.
It is a strange world at WJMC that over the last two weeks has seen a respected community hospital M&A expert smeared by a TeeVee outlet that took its tip from a politician that should have made the cut to be featured in the Peabody Award winning news series Louisiana Purchased but for whatever reason always seems to get a free pass from the TeeVee media in New Orleans. The hypocrisy is simply too much for Slabbed New Media to resist, especially coming out of a sweep month when the archives here are getting a workout and that has been the case over the past week here at Slabbed New Media with WJMC. As a bonus we even have one of those pesky audit adjustments to examine to boot.
Finally I’m getting information on another Jackson County blast from the past that features all the usual suspects from Maxwell-Walker Consulting to the Jackson County Board of Sups and I am working diligently to source the leads.
Karen Nelson checks in today with a great article that examines the aftermath of Tuesday’s primary elections in Jackson County, which despite the overall low voter turnout resulted in change in County Government. Karen gives credit to the scrappy group of SRHS retirees that will not go away quietly without answers along with accountability for the disaster that has resulted from a coordinated campaign of lies literally stretching over a period of years:
The tight-knit group handed out thousands of fliers, talked to voters, took out advertisements, picketed the hospitals and lawyers’ offices. They became good at giving interviews to the media and religiously attended Jackson County Board of Supervisors meetings to speak out about what they thought was fair and ask for answers as to why the county-owned system failed them and the community.
“I think people in the county were very upset about this,” Kitty Aguilar said Wednesday after the election. “It was unbelievable in most people’s minds that this would go on — the pension plan and how it was dealt with, and that county supervisors didn’t man up, take it straight on and deal with it.”
Local politics is all about pleasing the proverbial chronic voter. The chronic voter is typically grey that has extra time on their hands to engage in political activity like going to Board meetings or manning a picket line.
Since Chronic voters are Grey, they also have a lifetime of social contact with the community which means they are a big influences on what I’d term the marginal voter, which is that part of the electorate that turns out to vote only part of the time.
In 2010 about 28,000 voters turned out of the total voting age population of about 100,000. My guess is somewhere about 18-20 thousand of the total would fit the demographic of a chronic voter. Also in that demographic are close to 3,000 SHRS plan participants.
This is all a long winded way of saying that the County Board of Sups has written off somewhere around 10% of the total vote straight out of the gate. It is not an election winning strategy IMHO.
The advice the Sups heeded which in turn lead to my making that comment did not come from a political coms professional or a seasoned political operative IMHO. I think the Sups actions were based on the advice of a lawyer. If an elected official did what was best for their constituents over their own electoral self interest such would be a rarity in my opinion though it does happen on occasion. Continue reading “Credit the retirees as the runoff elections loom…..”
Way back in 2013 April Havens over at the Mississippi Press began telling County Attorney Paula (Sue Nations Stennett) Yancey’s story of her tie-up with the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System on behalf of the Jackson County Sheriff’s office everyone should have known there was a major problem with the county’s compliance with certain laws and regulations, mainly because the early reports of the exact nature of the problem were largely incomprehensible and it is with the first incomprehensible report that I start circa March 15, 2013:
Jackson County is going up against the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System in an effort to save thousands of hours in leave that employees have accrued over many years.
County attorney Paula Yancey was in Chancery Judge Charles Bordis’ courtroom this afternoon to ask him to stop a March 26 hearing before the PERS board in Jackson.
Attorney Amy St. Pé, who is representing the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, joined Yancey in court. Representing PERS were Alison O’Neal and Jane Mapp.
So there we have it folks, all the legal players are laid out neatly by Havens and for this we should be appreciative. But she loses me terming the legal dispute “a debate” because while courthouses may indeed occasionally house debates featuring master debaters what was going on with the attempted home cooking of Mississippi PERS in a Jackson County Courtroom was not a debating society prattling away discussing esoteric issues:
The debate cropped up near the end of 2011, Yancey said, when the county was copied on a letter sent from PERS to a retired sheriff’s department employee.
The employee had been retired for about 9 months when PERS said he was retired in error and asked him to repay money he had received, she said.
PERS then asked for a copy of the county’s personnel policy.
On May 31, 2012, the county received another letter from PERS “that made an administrative determination” and included an analysis and interpretation of the county’s leave policy, Yancey said.
The letter said that allowing current county employees to continue using leave would be considered a “prohibited donation,” she said, and asked the county to wipe the leave off its books.
Jackson County is arguing that PERS doesn’t have jurisdiction to interpret a county’s policy with total disregard for how the county interprets its own policy, nor does it have the power to dictate policy.
“They are so far outside their authority,” Yancey told the judge, noting that PERS doesn’t have a role in the process until an employee actually retires.
So are we getting this folks, those nasty PERS people have no business telling the County how much leave its employees may apply to the system in order to collect benefits. As a former auditor that knows a few things about Mississippi PERS I can assure everyone the system has some very clear rules about how much unused leave can be applied to creditable service but you’d never know that from that early 2013 story. You see the problem wasn’t with PERS at all, rather it was the County’s own leave policies that was too generous with PERS benefits, such not being the first time a local government tried using PERS in a way that is financially detrimental to the pension plan to the benefit of the local employees. Evidently Ms. Yancey and the County Controller, an Ex State Auditor’s office employee, did not get that memo as we fast forward a year to March 2014 and an update from County PR:
Jackson County supervisors today passed a resolution asking for the state Legislature, Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to clarify the authority of the Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Specifically, the county — which has been at odds with PERS since 2012 on an issue of retirees’ accrued vacation and sick leave — is asking the legislators to clarify whether PERS has authority to interpret a local government’s personnel policies.
Since 2012, the county has been trying to save thousands of hours in leave that its employees have accrued over many years.
According to the resolution, PERS has retroactively revoked or reduced benefits and asked some retired employees — many of whom have been retired for more than a year and a half — to repay certain benefits.
An amendment passed by the House today on Senate Bill 2257 could help Jackson County in its fight against the Public Employees’ Retirement System to save benefits for many county retirees.
Earlier this week, Jackson County supervisors formally asked the Legislature to clarify PERS’s authority, which has been questioned by the county in court hearings.
The amendment, penned by Jackson County state Rep. Manly Barton, does just that.
The short amendment reads, “No administrative agency of this state shall interpret the personnel policies of local governmental entities. Local governmental entities are the initial interpreters of its personnel policies, and same shall only be reviewed by a court of this state situated within the jurisdiction of the local governmental entity whose policy is in question.”
The issue of policy interpretation came up in the county’s dealings with PERS, which began in 2012. The issue deals with accrued vacation and sick leave that PERS says is not creditable to certain retirees’ retirement.
Thousands of hours are at stake, and the retirement system has asked several county retirees to repay benefits. PERS argues that the county’s personnel policy was vague and did not comply with regulation, but the county argues it did comply and that PERS doesn’t have authority to interpret its policies.
“If we wrote the policy, then obviously we should be the ones to interpret our own policies first,” said Barton, a former Jackson County supervisor. “Then if there’s evidence that the personnel policy somehow does not conform to state law, then the state agency can take it to court. Rather than us proving we are right, they’ve got to prove we’re wrong.”
Barton was evidently drinking Ms. Yancey’s brand of kool-aid but his amendment was struck from the final bill that passed. Even worse Jackson County was losing in court.
Now it is at this point I’d like to remind everyone of a major catastrophe that was brewing right at the same time that Barton was pumping his anti-PERs amendment and that was Singing River Health System’s financial house of cards was also unraveling in March 2014. This is important because the County supervisors are very clear that no tax money will be used to bail out the SRHS pension plan that was secretly terminated by the Supervisor’s appointees on the SRHS Board of Trustees late last year. With such parameters defining pension problem solutions in Jackson County, how did the Sups solve the problem they had with Sheriff’s Department Employees that had over collected pension benefits based on bad county leave policies?