Weary, worried City Council turns from fire to hospital's future

June 27, 2012
photo - Memorial Health System Photo by The Gazette file
Memorial Health System Photo by The Gazette file 

A special 10 a.m. Wednesday meeting of the Colorado Springs City Council to approve plans to lease Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health offered a surreal tableau:

Two council members didn’t know if their homes were still standing, five had been evacuated, and Councilman Tim Leigh had to leave the meeting before votes were taken to help his daughter pack.

An exhausted Council President Scott Hente said that he believed his Mountain Shadows home was destroyed, along with precious mementos such as his wedding photos and his Air Force Academy ring.

Still, he managed to be philosophical about his loss.

“If it’s there it’s there. If it’s not, you can’t do anything about it,” Hente said.

Councilman Val Snider had to evacuate twice and doesn’t know the fate of his Mountain Shadows home. After fleeing his home, he spent a night at Hente’s house and said they could feel the fire’s heat as they were leaving. Snider is now staying with former council member Richard Skorman.

But, Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said, the timeline to put the Memorial lease on the ballot for an Aug. 28 special election could not wait. And, she said, it was important to show that the business of government can continue in trying times.

“We understand what’s going on, but this is a really important step for our community,” said Martin, who herself needed to flee her home near Kissing Camels late Tuesday.
All the measures passed 8-0, with Leigh absent.

Before the council voted, Springs Mayor Steve Bach sat in on the meeting and spoke in favor of the plan.

“I just think this is a tremendous opportunity for the city,” the mayor said, his eyes red from smoke and lack of sleep.

Bach had been concerned about the details of how the $74 million up-front lease payment and $5.6 million annual payments would be overseen and spent.

He said he was satisfied with a compromise in which seven council members and the mayor, or eight council members without the mayor, would have to agree before any of the principal of that money could be spent; the same number would be needed to remove members of the foundation board that will oversee spending the interest. Also, the mayor would appoint those board members, subject to council approval, and both the mayor and seven council members would have to approve the foundation’s bylaws and the appointment of a CEO for the foundation and that executive’s compensation.

“There are lots of protections to prevent a situation like what we had,” Bach said, referring to the controversial $1.15 million severance package Memorial’s board awarded former CEO Dr. Larry McEvoy over the objections of the City Council and mayor.

After wrestling with the machinery of government for two hours, Hente curtly adjourned the meeting and council members returned to the smoky reality outside City Hall.

Councilman Merv Bennett said his priority was to drive to Red Rock Open Space, from where he could see whether his Cedar Heights home was still standing.

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