Broward Health Chair Speaks on Cobo Case

After allegedly mingling public responsibilities with private consulting work, Broward Health Commissioner Joseph Cobo faces an uncertain future. A week after those charges came to light, Board Chairman Mike Fernandez is seeking to protect the public health system from the fallout. In an interview this morning with Juice, Fernandez stressed Broward Health's quick response to the memo by former acting general counsel Tory Kishbaugh in which the allegations first appeared.

"Since September 2007 [when Fernandez was appointed to the board by Gov. Charlie Crist], there has been a move to make what we do more transparent and open to the public," says Fernandez. "The board has gone out of its way, and this an example: An ethics violation is something the board looks at as a serious charge -- and we investigated it."

Fernandez declined to discuss the details of the allegations against Cobo -- he's ethically bound to confine such conversations to the public meeting. But whatever comes of the Cobo case, Fernandez has already drawn his own moral from the story: "What is clear to me is that the board and senior management need training about what is proper interaction," says Fernandez, in what must be a reference to allegations that Cobo dealt individually with Broward Health employees on issues involving clients of his consulting company. The corporate charter dictates that commissioners deal only with Broward Health employees through board action. "We need to learn from these mistakes and move forward," adds Fernandez.

Of course, "mistake" could mean two things -- an accident or a moral lapse based on a deliberate act.

In the Cobo case, it's an important distinction. For now, it looks like Fernandez is willing to give Cobo the benefit of the doubt. "In reading [the investigative report], I believe that Commissioner Cobo has had good intentions as it relates to most if not all of the allegations," he says. "He's used to diving into situations to help -- but unfortunately in our role as officials of Broward County, we can't always do that."

When it comes to ethics, Broward Health hasn't exactly been throwing a perfect game. Just look at all the dastardly deeds New Times columnist Bob Norman reported in 2004. Granted, there's been a sea change in the management ranks of the public health system since. But aren't Broward taxpayers justified in expecting this new generation of leaders to have learned from the mistakes of the previous?

Although, admittedly, if you grade on a curve against past county scandals, then yes, this board does get credit for launching an investigation, even if it feels a bit like thanking the mailman for delivering a letter.

The commissioners were scheduled to discuss the Cobo investigation at their next meeting, May 27, but Fernandez says he may call for a special meeting in advance of that. If so, expect that announcement before day's end. As to what course of action the board may take?

"That's a great question," says Fernandez. "I don' t know. That's what we're trying to find out. Our general counsel is looking into that. There's a wide spectrum of things."

For detailed coverage of the allegations against Cobo, see this blog post first, this one second, and this one third.

UPDATE: Broward Health spokesperson Sara Howley says that due to scheduling conflicts, the Board of Commissioners will not have a special meeting to discuss the Cobo matter; rather, they will address the issue at their regularly scheduled meeting May 27.


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