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Hospital board, city, reach agreement on contract

Tuesday, September 28, 2004 by

Commissioners to consider final approval today

The City of Austin and the Travis County Hospital District have completed negotiations on an interlocal agreement that turns responsibility for several health care programs over to the district and defines the relationship between the two entities.

“It’s been a long and complicated negotiation to get this agreement, but we’re happy with what we have come up with,” said Board of Managers Chair Clarke Heidrick. “We are finally in the business of delivering health care.

The district board voted 6-0 Monday night to adopt the interlocal agreement with the City of Austin. Two board members, Carl Richie and Rosie Mendoza, abstained from the vote because of some connections with the city programs, even though staff attorneys told them there was no conflict of interest under state law.

Travis County Commissioners must also approve the agreement, which outlines the working relationship between the city and the district and spells out other aspects of cooperation. Hospital board members seemed confident that commissioners would approve the contract at today’s meeting.

The agreement is for one year, beginning October 1, 2004, with the option of four one-year extensions by mutual agreement.

Provision of the contract include:

• Indigent care programs – The district adopts the Medical Assistance Program and the Rural Medical Assistance Program as its indigent care program, and will assume authority for setting policies for the program.

• City management – The city will continue to operate and manage the City – County Clinic System (the Federally Qualified Health Centers) and the MAP and RMAP programs, retaining current city and county employees at the clinics. The district will pay $41.7 million in equal installments to the city to operate the clinics.

• Clinic facilities – the current city and county clinic facilities will continue to be used for the FQHC under city management. On termination of the service portion of the agreement, those facilities will transfer to the district.

• Hospital leases – the district assumes the leases for operating Brackenridge Hospital and Austin Women’s Hospital, but the city will manage day-to-day operations, under district direction.

• City contributions – the city will contribute $10.7 million to the district to be used as part of the district’s financial reserves. The city will also transfer ownership of the 16,000-square foot MAP Administrative Building on Cesar Chavez on December 1. The district will use the building as its headquarters.

In other action, the board could be under new leadership soon. Citing reports that the search for a permanent director could take an estimated three to six months, Heidrick said they may consider hiring a second interim director to continue operating the district.

Richie, chair of the board’s personnel committee, reported that they are drafting a job description for the district’s permanent director, but that the hiring process will take some time. “We believe that it would work best if we consider hiring another interim director to keep things moving forward during the search,” he said.

Jim Collins, a member of the County Attorney’s staff, has served as the interim director and staff attorney for the district since its inception, but wants to return to his county duties as soon a possible.

Richie says the committee will have a draft job description ready for the board to consider at its next regular meeting. Once that is approved, the next step would be to hire a “headhunter” or personnel search firm. Board member said they would consider naming a second interim director once the search for a permanent one is open.

Committee member Tom Young said they are leaning towards hiring an individual who demonstrates “vision, leadership, planning, and organization,” as opposed to someone with an operational skills background as a hospital administrator.

“We believe that person we are looking for should have a background in public policy, planning experience, community-based clinic, or multi-specialty group management,” he said.

The board also voted to make 6:30pm on Thursday its regular meeting time. Board members plan to meet weekly over the next few months in order to get the district up and running.

Commissions weigh in on Rainey Street plan

Landmark commission rejects proposal to move buildings

The Historic Landmark Commission's vote on the rezoning of the Rainey Street neighborhood—to make preservation of the currently configured National Historic Register District its first priority—came as no surprise. Meanwhile, the City Council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning of the Rainey Street neighborhood to Central Business District on Oct. 7.

After presentations to eight commissions by city staff members George Adams, Jana McCann and Greg Guernsey, the vote on Rainey Street has become a bit like a Rubik's Cube puzzle, with each commission twisting the recommendations to fit the commission's mission and purpose. The development-focused Downtown Commission has supported intensive Central Business District zoning for Rainey. The Planning Commission took a position on density and fees, but no position on design guidelines. The Design Commission appointed a committee last night to focus on design standards. And two other boards – the Parks Board and the Historic Landmark Commission – are limiting their recommendations to their particular purview.

To make matters more complicated, the staff has changed its proposal several times in response to input from the various commissions.

The Historic Landmark Commission's discussion was short, sweet and to the point. Last night's vote was delayed twice, and once the public hearing was closed, member Patti Hansen immediately suggested that the commission's prime goal should be the preservation of the national historic district as it currently stands.

Chair Lisa Laky agreed that the commission's only purpose was to preserve the historic integrity of the neighborhood, and do nothing that would "denigrate, dismantle or harm the district in any way." The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously supported Hansen's proposal, with Jim Fowler and Julia Bunton absent from the meeting.

Member Laurie Limbacher, who has served as an ex-officio member of the Historic Preservation Task Force, was willing to open up the motion a bit more, recommending the commission take a position on the report presented by city staff. Limbacher laid out three conditions to her accompanying resolution, which also was approved unanimously:

The Historic Landmark Commission supports preservation of the current district, but if the Council decides to move forward with development, the HLC would support the option of the historic enclave on Rainey Street, which would preserve more contributing homes in their original locations;

The commission also recommended further study of the transfer of development rights. According to the Rainey Street report, the transfer of development rights, or TDR, is typically used in East Coast cities. It gives the owner of the historic property the right to transfer, or sell, his designated CBD zoning to other properties outside the district. In essence, the developer gets the right to a higher density in an outlying development; the owner is compensated while still maintaining a historic home. It is difficult to see how the transfer could work here, however, since none of the homes are designated historic even though the district is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The commission encouraged the use of a master developer to provide an overall concept or plan for Rainey Street, with the intention of preserving the district as the condition of any master plan. Limbacher likened such a proposal to Mueller or the Triangle.

The commission approved Limbacher's resolution in concept and asked H istoric Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky to draft the resolution for the commission’s final approval.

City, firefighters in contract talks . . . Representatives of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters will sit down with negotiators for the city again this morning for their third collective bargaining session. At the outset of these discussions, the firefighters agreed not to push for a raise higher than the two percent "public safety premium" already built into the city budget, according to union president Mike Martinez. Firefighters and the city are working to negotiate a one-year contract quickly, he said. "I think that we're very close. There's no guarantees." He added, "I think the city is also optimistic. In two collective bargaining meetings I think we've accomplished more than over the previous two months." Firefighters have been working under standard civil service rules without a union contract since September of 2002. Once the contract for the fiscal year starting Friday is completed, Martinez said, negotiators will begin to work on a multi-year contract to begin next October. . . Toll party promises picket . . . The Austin Toll Party has announced its intention to picket County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner’ s fundraiser Wednesday night. According to an e-mail press advisory, picketers will carry signs "asking for how much Karen sold her yes vote to the toll road special interests," in front of the Headliner's Club, 221 W. 6th Street, while Sonleitner is being feted upstairs. The email, sent by Toll Party spokesperson Sal Costello, says, "The road lobby boys and girls are having an oh-so-expensive fundraiser for her this Wednesday eve at the exclusive Headliner's Club (Up to $2,500 a plate fundraiser). " An assistant to Sonleitner said there are always $25 tickets to the commissioner’s fundraisers. Picketers promise to share information with the media about those who are sponsoring the event . . . Campaign cleanup urged . . . The government watchdog group Campaigns for People is running TV ads this week in the state's largest media markets to draw new support for campaign finance reform. Executive Director Fred Lewis says the ads were produced prior to the indictments announced by a Travis County grand jury in the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC investigation, but that the case’s high profile could help raise awareness of their cause. "If the public isn't paying attention now," Lewis said, "I don't know when they will" . . . Strama talks about reform too . . . Democratic State Representative candidate Mark Strama also spent Monday talking about campaign finance and election reform. He presented a "Political Accountability Act,” which he originally outlined back in March, in response to the TRM-PAC indictments and to remarks made last week by incumbent State Representative Jack Stick. In addressing insurance industry representatives during a meeting at the Texas Department of Insurance last week, Stick reportedly made a request for financial support. Although that was not a violation of the state's campaign laws, Stick later retracted the statement and vowed not to accept any donations made in response to the request. Strama says the rules should be changed to make that type of solicitation illegal. "Walking into a room full of insurance lobbyists…and asking those lobbyists to fund his campaign…I think that is an abomination," Strama said. "I think it is absolutely wrong" . . . Child protection worker honored . . . At a recent awards ceremony in Dallas, Sandra Martin, executive director for the Center for Child Protection, has been recognized as a statewide leader in the fight against child abuse. State Senator Florence Shapiro presented Martin with the Children's Advocacy Center Executive Director Team Excellence Award. "Sandra Martin has not only given direction and leadership to Austin's Center for Child Protection, but also she has helped the state association grow to better meet the needs of abused children throughout Texas," said Karen Kalergis, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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