Vote follows questionable Executive Session
Following an apparently illegal Executive Session on Wednesday night, the 5-member Walker County Hospital District Board of Managers unanimously approved hiring a Dallas-based securities company and a Houston law firm to assist it in a transaction of undisclosed real estate in Walker County. While the Board did not specify whether the District is planning to purchase or to sell real estate, comments made during meeting discussion tend to indicate that the District is planning to sell at least one taxpayer-owned property.
Shortly after calling to order Wednesday night’s meeting of the Walker County Hospital District, Board Chairman Bob Hardy announced that the meeting would deviate from the printed agenda by immediately moving to Executive Session.
The Agenda listed the reason for the closed-door meeting as: to review and discuss a potential real estate transaction presented by a developer and to consider whether to engage a public relations firm with regard to a potential real estate transaction.
Was this Executive Session meeting legal?
In what appears to be a violation of the Open Meetings Act, two representatives from Hilltop Securites (listed on the Agenda as First Southwest) were allowed to remain in the Executive Session along with all five elected Board Members as well as one WCHD staffer. When asked who is allowed in to their Executive Sessions, Hardy replied that they could ask anyone they wanted to sit in on these sessions.
The Open Meetings Act allows a governmental body to conduct a closed meeting “to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property if deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the position of the governmental body in negotiations with a third person”; however, the law would have prevented the appearance of the representative(s) from any company at the session. From page 58 of the 2016 Texas Open Meeting Handbook : Only the members of a governmental body have a right to attend an executive session…A governmental body has discretion to include in an executive session any of its officers and employees whose participation is necessary to the matter under consideration.
Is the Huntsville hospital secretly being sold?
Upon re-convening after the lengthy Executive Session, the Board, consisting of Hardy, Susan Mott, Ron Lange, Jerry Larrison, and newly elected manager Judy Emmett, immediately and unanimously approved the engagement of the above-mentioned Hilltop Securities for “financial advisory services related to a potential transaction” and the engagement of Bracewell & Guiliani for “public law issues and a potential real estate transaction”. It was noted during discussion that Bracewell & Guilani had experience with the sale of hospital district hospitals.
In other Board business:
- Members voted unanimously to approve a 3-year lease for WCHD office space in spite of the fact that no copy of the lease was provided to the voting members.
- The Board approved payment of indigent care expenses.
- HMH staff updated the Board of renovations at the hospital. The Correctional Care area will be open very soon.
- The Board voted to approve payment of monthly bills, but no dollar amounts were given to the public.
Where is the transparency?
None of the documents listed in the Agenda were available for public view at the meeting. The WCHD does not maintain a website where documents are posted for public view either before or after the meetings. Our emailed request for the documents has thus far gone unanswered.
Board Chairman Bob Hardy did not respond to our questions.