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Memorial's out-of-town retreat raises ire

October 6, 2010

A $5,200 retreat south of Denver for big wigs of the city-owned hospital system is drawing fire from some Colorado Springs City Council members who say the money should be spent locally.

“In a time where we’re scrutinizing every single dollar – granted, these aren’t general fund dollars – but still, it’s kind of symbolic of everything that’s happening from a national level all the way down,” Councilman Darryl Glenn said Wednesday.

“At some point, common sense has to factor in, and you can forgo certain things based on how they’re going to be perceived publicly,” said Glenn, adding that he plans to question Memorial Health System officials about the retreat when they appear before council next.

Memorial’s Board of Trustees, its executive team and select physicians are meeting away from Colorado Springs to avoid distractions, Memorial spokeswoman Cari Davis said.

“Based on past experience, the board has learned that it experiences fewer disruptions or distractions to its annual planning efforts by traveling a short distance out of town,” she said in an e-mail.

“South Denver provides just enough distance to give the board uninterrupted focus on health system future planning without creating an undue burden for those interested in attending,” she said. “This is the second year in a row the retreat has been held here.”

The retreat is Friday and Saturday at the Denver Marriott South at Park Meadows in Littleton, south of Denver.

According to Memorial, officials are scheduled meet in open session at 12:30 p.m. Friday and then in closed session at 3:30 p.m.

On Saturday, officials are scheduled to meet in open session at 8:30 a.m. and then in closed session 15 minutes later.

Davis said the retreat will cost an estimated $5,200, which includes food, lodging and meeting room expenses for the attendees. Memorial, which doesn’t receive taxpayer support, is paying for the retreat.

Vice Mayor Larry Small said he would encourage Memorial officials to reconsider.

“If they were going up there to meet with people that are in the area in the health care industry and they had a group of speakers ... that would make some sense,” he said.

“But just to go there to be able to concentrate, I think you can isolate yourself pretty well here in town if that’s your objective,” he added.

(Did Memorial mess up? Vote in poll.)

Councilman Bernie Herpin said he wished the retreat would’ve been held in town.

“It is kind of disappointing, but we don’t have a lot of oversight over what they do,” he said. “They don’t really ask us, and that comes out of the hospital funds, not city funds.”

Davis said Memorial tries to use local vendors “whenever possible” but that it made more sense to take the retreat on the road to focus on the task at hand.

“When people are in town, it’s a lot easier to double-book oneself personally and professionally,” she said in the e-mail. “For example, when you ask people to spend one to two days focused on planning and host that session in town, it’s easier to leave the meeting briefly, zip home, step out for other business, take phone calls, etc.”

She said a little distance and scheduling at least part of the retreat on Saturday helps guard against such distractions.

Chelsy Murphy, a spokeswoman for Experience Colorado Springs, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, said her organization didn’t feel snubbed. She said the bureau’s vice president of sales, Pam Sherfesee, told her it’s “very common” for boards to hold their meetings away from their headquarters to concentrate on their work.

“She pointed out that most of the time with board meetings, when they’re headquartered somewhere, they like to have meetings offsite,” she said. “That may be why (Memorial officials) went to Denver, just so the attendees can focus, not be distracted with things that are going on locally.”

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