Broward News

Governor's Office in No Hurry to Replenish Scandal-Plagued Hospital Board

Among the many problems at the North Broward Hospital District (a pending criminal corruption investigation, a pending internal investigation for fraud, to name a couple), the district's board currently has an attendance problem. The kind that only Gov. Charlie Crist can fix.

The governor appoints the seven members of the board. But the terms of four of those seven have expired. One of those four has already left -- Maureen Jaeger took a position with Sen. George LeMieux's office last fall. Another, Commissioner Rebecca Stoll, hasn't bothered to attend a meeting since July.

That leaves only five commissioners, and one of the few not serving an expired term is Joseph Cobo, the one under pending criminal corruption investigation by the Broward State Attorney's Office. After Cobo and another commissioner, Mike Fernandez, skipped the December meeting, it had to be canceled. Yesterday, we learned that they may be planning to skip January's meeting too in a ploy to save the job of embattled CEO Frank Nask.

It's a leadership vacuum that calls for, well, a leader. So I contacted the governor's office to find out how Crist's staff would bring order to this chaos.

"The governor's appointments office is continuing to review applications and narrowing in on potential candidates," Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey says of the vacancies at the district board. "There is not a specific time frame for which an appointment must be made, but the governor looks forward to naming some individuals within the next several weeks."

Ivey declined to address our report that two of the Crist-appointed commissioners were part of a scheme to avoid voting on the motion to terminate the CEO.

Not that anyone should be surprised -- it's mighty hard to shock this governor. Way back on June 1, when the allegations of corruption against Cobo were still fresh, we predicted Crist would sweep the mess under the rug.

The governor was sent a copy of a report in which an independent investigator found evidence that suggested Cobo was exploiting his public office in a way to reap personal rewards and improve business for his private physician consulting firm. Crist's office told Juice in mid-July that it was "aware" of the Cobo investigation and was still reviewing the investigator's findings before taking action. Six months later, not a peep.

For the $1 billion district partially funded through tax dollars, there is a price for Crist's methodical (or oblivious?) ways. At the very least, board members are the only ones who can approve hospital staff privileges. When the meetings don't happen, it's necessary for the general counsel's legal staff to prepare temporary privileges that cover those staff members. That's a more expensive proposition than it should be -- if only because the board hasn't bothered to hire a new general counsel. Rather, since firing its general counsel in mid-May, the district has had to pay a Fort Lauderdale law firm at a rate that's double what it would otherwise be.

Commissioners Stoll, Cobo, and Fernandez have not responded to Juice efforts to talk with them about their attendance at meetings. A message left with the board's chair, Rhonda Calhoun, was not immediately returned.

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Thomas Francis