The recording and publishing of public meetings is a best practice that’s been broadly adopted by many governments in Texas. But despite discussions surrounding a $1 billion debt plan still looming, the appointed board charged with oversight of Tarrant County’s hospital district (JPS) has stalled transparency efforts aimed at restoring public confidence.
Newly appointed JPS Board Member and local attorney, Warren Norred, has run into apathy from colleagues after requesting that public meetings be recorded and published online. The board has paid lip-service to the idea at Norred’s prodding, resisting even the formal discussion of such an agenda item, until recently.
Citizens keeping tabs on the district have reason to push for greater transparency from the JPS board and hospital executives.
In the absence of a Chief Financial Officer in early 2015, JPS hired outside financial consultants (Financial Resource Group) to make lofty and dubious financial forecasts surrounding their proposed $1 billion bond. This enabled Tarrant County officials such as County Judge Glenn Whitley (R) to float empty promises that “no new property tax increase” would result if local voters approved the proposition.
Because the board does not record its meetings, there is no easily accessible public record of deliberation regarding any of the above issues.
But during local town hall meetings, JPS representatives were unable to satisfy residents who surprised them with educated questions and concerns.
Despite plans to dramatically expand the size of the system with a new psychiatric center, patient tower, and renovations, JPS’ forecasts claimed their annual operating costs would actually decrease following completion in 2020.
Not only did their projections fail to add up, but JPS executives admitted in public meetings the board would not follow through on huge layoffs totaling over 350 current employees, “efficiency” savings their own consultants said were necessary to meet the lofty projections they were touting.
JPS’ annual expenses have historically increased, rising by over $40 million each of the last several years. A large portion of this annual increase is the result of an ever-expanding staff, which has exceeded JPS’ own budget projections over the same period, and tripled over the last decade.
The JPS board was asking the public to believe that, after approving nearly $1 billion in new debt to build a brand-new patient tower, their annual costs would somehow flat-line over time, while the size of their staff would mysteriously shrink.
After over 650 local residents signed a petition to delay the controversial measure, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court decided not to place the bond on the November 2015 ballot. Sources inside JPS say they are now eyeing May 2016 to place a similar package before voters.
It’s worth noting that former JPS Board Chairman Scott Fisher, who supported and rubber-stamped both the dubious 2015 debt-deal and its faulty financial forecasts, is now running against taxpayer champion State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) in the upcoming Republican primary.
Fisher has received support from JPS attorney Neil Adams ($5,000), whose law firm (Adams, Lynch & Loftin, P.C.) holds a multi-million dollar contract with JPS, and was approved while Fisher served as Board Chairman.
He’s also received support from former state legislators John Carona (and the Associa PAC), Patricia Harless, Rob Orr, John Otto, and Vicki Truitt. Each of those former members notoriously aligned themselves with liberals and government-interest groups while in Austin.
Aside from the questionable political alliances inside JPS that warrant concern from Tarrant County conservatives, the board should record and publish their meetings online to foster public accountability. Taxpayers have good reason to be skeptical.