My colleague Thomas Francis has a great post on the rather dubious public-private relationship that North Broward Hospital District Commissioner Rebecca Stoll has with the Museum of Science and Discovery in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
You have to read Francis' post linked above to get the details. Basically, he writes about an allegation that Stoll pressured the district to donate $10,000 to the museum in 2007. The problem: She was serving as a member of the museum's fundraising committee at the time and stood to win various perks the more money she helped raise.
[Now Francis is writing about allegations regarding fellow Commissioner Maureen Jaeger's alleged attempt to influence Levine to hire her brother-in-law. Levine allegedly is holding a tape recording of Jaeger's request. Hilarious. She actually left it on a recorder?]
It's a conflict of interest (though Stoll's loyalists are piling on to Francis' post right now with comments -- again, read it, it's blowing up). Anyway, on a whim, I called former NBHD CEO Alan Levine and it turns out he still has his old cell phone number. Levine, who now serves under Gov. Bobby Jindhal as Louisiana's Secretary of Health and Hospitals, was a reformer at the district who helped professionalize the place after scandals prompted Jeb Bush to clear out the former CEO, the general counsel, and just about the entire board.
Levine confirmed that Stoll had tried to influence the district to give the money.
He told me that when he first came to the district, people would walk into his office and ask him to sign checks for all kinds of different causes. Sometimes it would be commissioners, sometimes staffers, sometimes people from the community.
"It was about $2 million a year," he said of the district's donations. "I wondered why we were doing this? A, we tax people and B, people donate their money to
But he said that the district did have a legitimate reason to make some contributions. So he created a process.
"There was no paper trail or transparency," he said. "So I implemented a July 07. If you wanted a donation you had to fill out a form, say who was requesting it, and articulate the benefit to the community and to the district. A committee would meet twice a month to consider requests and they would make a recommendations to me. When you give away public money, you need to have a documented reason for it."
One of his main goals, he said, was to get commissioners out of the process.
"I believe fiercely in keeping the decision-making process separate from the commissioners when it relates to the day-to-day decisions," Levine said. "If a commissioner wants to have something done, they need to take it up at the public meeting. We had commissioners coming directly to us."
He said Stoll wasn't the only one who directly asked for donations to be made with district money. He indicated that Joe Cobo and Maureen Jaeger had also made requests. And he said he didn't mind that, so long as they kept out of the process and the committee's affairs.
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That's where Stoll crossed the line, he said. She went to the committee discussion about the museum donation and spoke in favor of it. Levine said he had asked her not to go, but she went anyway. "I didn't want them to feel any pressure," he said. "I wanted them to make a clean recommendation. When you have a commissioner sitting in the meeting it can change the tenor. The whole reason i set up the process was to create a firewall from any outside influence, includng commissioners. "
Despite even that, he still released the $10,000 contribution to the museum. Then it got worse.
"After I signed off on it, someone disclosed to me that she was on the fundraising committee for the museum," he said. "That was sometihng that should have been disclosed at the time. I didn't know that, so I made a deicison about donating money and I didn't have all the information."
It led to great friction between Stoll and Levine that endured until he left the district for the Lousiana job. "That was the beginning of the issues between me and Rebecca," he said. "I like her, I think her heart was always in the right place, but I think my views on corporate governance are just more strict."