Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Springs' City Council agrees to revive Memorial task force

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: May 23, 2011 at 12:00 am

The new City Council will reexamine a deal recommended by the previous council that laid out details of turning Memorial Health System into an independent nonprofit.

The nine-member council, composed of six new members, decided during its informal meeting Monday to revive a task force on the city-owned hospital’s future.

The new task force will not only pick up where the previous task force left off, but it will put its own mark on whatever package, if any, is presented to voters.

“This council has a lot of opportunity to make changes, add to it and put their fingerprints on it,” said council President Pro Tem Jan Martin, who will lead the new task force.

The clock is ticking if the council wants to refer a question about Memorial to the November ballot. The council has until the end of August to do so.

“We have such a short window of time where decisions need to be made,” Martin said.

In its final meeting in April, the outgoing council voted 5-2 to support a proposal to turn Memorial into a nonprofit and to recommend that the incoming council put the proposal to voters in November.

The proposal was presented as a complete package. However, the council’s April vote was only a recommendation.

The first task force, chaired by outgoing Mayor Lionel Rivera, spent four months hammering out the proposed agreement, which was codified in a lengthy memorandum of understanding that spelled out questions such as how Memorial’s board would be selected and what health and financial standards it would be required to meet.

The proposal also called for Memorial to pay an initial $5 million into a community foundation focused on health care, followed by yearly contributions of $1 million.

Councilman Merv Bennett said he found a lot of holes in the proposal.

“I find, as a former nonprofit CEO, significant gaps in clarity and definition in those documents,” said Bennett, who recently retired as CEO of the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region.

“I think before we go to a vote, to protect the strong work that you did, we need to make sure that the community understands what’s happening so that what you’re recommending is actually delivered,” he told a citizens’ commission that attended Monday’s council meeting to give a briefing about its recommendation.

Councilman Tim Leigh said he would like to consider other options.

“I think that one of the issues is how fast can we do this,” he said. “Can we have a legitimate process and get it done in time in order to have a ballot issue? I’m not sure.”

Council President Scott Hente said he expects the new task force to build on the work of the previous group and potentially come forward with documentation to support a ballot question.

“There may be nothing that goes on the ballot this time,” he said. “But if something does, this council has to be assured of itself that it had a hand in the process and it can defend putting something on the ballot.”

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Staff writer Andy Wineke contributed to this report.

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