Zurik: Slidell Hospital audit report released, by court order - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Zurik: Slidell Hospital audit report released, by court order

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  • Zurik: Legal action puts a muzzle on state watchdog

    Zurik: Legal action puts a muzzle on state watchdog

    Wednesday, September 16 2015 2:26 PM EDT2015-09-16 18:26:31 GMT
    A few weeks after we showed you a Jefferson Parish elected official drinking in a bar, the state's legislative auditor raided that elected official's house. But 18 months after that investigation picked up, the auditor is unable to release a report that would reveal whether they found any wrongdoing.more>>
    A few weeks after we showed you a Jefferson Parish elected official drinking in a bar, the state's legislative auditor raided that elected official's house. But 18 months after that investigation picked up, the auditor is unable to release a report that would reveal whether they found any wrongdoing.more>>
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

A judge says the public has the right to know how much money it's paying the chief executive officer of a local hospital. That's one of two developments from our investigation Wednesday night, where two public bodies sued the legislative auditor to prevent public records from being released.

Slidell Memorial Hospital didn't want the public to know how much it paid CEO Bill Davis. The hospital sued the legislative auditor, trying to prevent Davis' salary from being released.

"It's disheartening but it's, I think, even more kind of a sign of the times," says Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, "that you've got various actors in some government agencies - they don't want the public to know the truth of what's happening with public dollars."

The legislature passed a law last year, requiring all public bodies to disclose the compensation paid to their CEO's.  All complied, save for Slidell Memorial Hospital.

But now a judge has ruled the public has the right to know, and told the legislative auditor to release the information. It shows Slidell Hospital paid Davis $473,627. That includes a base salary of base salary is $381,727, $81,000 in benefits, $6,000 in travel and $3,000 in reimbursements.

Davis' compensation package is more than the other public hospital in the parish pays its CEO.  At St. Tammany Parish Hospital, Patti Ellish makes $460,447 - about $13,000 less.

We received this statement Thursday from David G. Mannella, chairman of Slidell Memorial's Board of Commissioners:

Slidell Memorial Hospital has fully complied with the law governing the information we must report to the Legislative Auditor, including reporting the salary of the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer. However, the Board of Commissioners does not agree with the Legislative Auditor that the salary of one of our hospital’s employees is public information.

Because of that difference of opinion, we have asked the Courts to decide. Our case is still ongoing and is under appeal to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. We feel we will win the appeal. It would be inappropriate for to discuss details of ongoing litigation.

What we can say is this: the Board feels that under the “Enhanced Ability to Compete Act” of the Louisiana Legislature, all strategic information that would damage our ability to compete in the marketplace is protected from public disclosure. We have always held that all employee salaries are strategic in nature and therefore are protected from disclosure to the public. In fact, several years ago we fought and won a court battle concerning the release of such confidential information. 

The Enhanced Ability to Compete Act’s importance is not just about employee salaries. As stewards of this hospital it is our duty to protect SMH from anything that would damage our ability to compete. Protecting our strategic information levels the playing field with our private hospital competitors, which preserves our ability to give our community high-quality healthcare at an affordable price. 

The Legislative Auditor has every piece of information he needs to do his valuable job as a public watchdog.

We also have new information about the other lawsuit against the auditor.

A year and a half after we caught an elected official, Jefferson Parish Constable Tony Thomassie, drinking in a bar during the workday, the legislative auditor still hasn't been able to release its findings. Why not? Thomassie's audit also includes findings on Jefferson Parish Justice of the Peace Patrick DeJean, who sued to prevent the auditor from releasing a report.

The auditor can't release that report until a judge gives his okay.  But if another public body got a copy, nothing would prevent them from handing it over to us.

So we tried to get a copy of the draft report from the justice of the peace, DeJean, through a public records request.  He sent us a letter saying he has not "received any reports or documents" that we made "reference to" in our "letter." 

The auditor says that's not true. "We provided him a copy back in March," Purpera says.

And now to the new information: The legislative auditor sent us proof, two certified mail receipts, that show DeJean or someone signed his name that they received the report in February, and again in July.

So while DeJean told us he hasn't been given a copy of any investigative report, the auditor says this is proof he has it - proof DeJean is refusing to hand over a public document.

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