Today’s Hamilton County Commission meeting was one of the longest of late and certainly one of the nastiest.
Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune took verbal shots at each of the two Republican Commissioners that brought pointed retorts from Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine.
Portune and the two Republicans often give subtle digs at each other at the meetings, but today’s comments were the most personal in some time.
The biggest issue over which there was disagreement was the resolution calling for the board of commissioners to approve the transfer of the Drake Center Inc. to the Health Alliance.
In that deal, the Health Alliance will get the $10.7 million annual proceeds from a voter-approved levy that runs through 2009. After that, the levy goes off the books.
The deal also calls for Hamilton County – as owner of the Hartwell property and buildings that house Drake – to receive a minimum of $31.5 million from the Health Alliance for those assets. If the Health Alliance doesn’t exercise the option to buy the property, it will pay Hamilton County annual rent of $1 million for up to 60 years.
Currently, based on the 1989 lease with Hamilton County, Drake pays $1 per year in rent and can through 2087.
DeWine, who jumped in in early April when the proposed deal negotiated late last year appeared to be dead, praised the deal as good for taxpayers because it:
· Increases the government’s rent obligation by $999,999 per year for at least three years;
· Calls for the Health Alliance to pay a minimum of $31.5 million for the property no earlier than 2010;
· Ends the levy after 2009;
· Calls for the Health Alliance to also pay about $20 million in debt Drake owes.
The deal also is good for Drake patients, DeWine added, because it allows a rehabilitation hospital that projects to lose $20 million this year and was looking at possibly closing its doors to remain open while continuing its mission of providing for care for patients who have suffered severe head and spinal injuries.
Portune, a Drake patient following his spinal surgery, wasn’t sure it was such a good deal and said the public might not know, either, because there were no public hearings on the deal, formally announced Monday.
Portune was upset that he learned of Monday’s announcement from an Enquirer reporter an hour before it was made.
“As a commissioner, I am afforded no opportunity to get an outside (opinion) at all” on the value of the Drake property, Portune said at today’s meeting.
He called the hospital transfer the “unloading (of) this asset of the county’s,” a verbal dig at DeWine.
Then Portune quizzed the private attorney Hamilton County hired to complete the transfer, asking her if it was appropriate for Heimlich to be involved in the issue because the transfer of the hospital has to be approved by the Ohio Attorney General. Until he dropped off of the ticket late last year, Heimlich was the lieutenant governor candidate for Jim Petro.
Portune then asked that the proposed Hamilton County resolution approving the transfer of Drake be tabled until there can be public input provided.
Portune’s motion failed for lack of a second.
Then it was the Republicans’ turn to jab back at Portune.
Heimlich asked the attorney questions that revealed Drake was in danger of defaulting on about $20 million in bonds it has used for hospital capital projects. Heimlich said the Drake board, with that financial information, approached Hamilton County and the Health Alliance about taking over Drake – points Heimlich wryly noted Portune either didn’t know or failed to point out.
Heimlich also said the agreement was supported by or had been approved by the Drake Board, the majority of commissioners, the University of Cincinnati Trustees and the Health Alliance leaders.
The lone public dissenter to the deal, Heimlich said, “is my colleague Todd Portune.”
DeWine then took “a little bit of exception” to Portune’s suggestion the $31.5 million deal to transfer Drake wasn’t a good deal because, unlike Portune, DeWine said, he’d done his homework on the subject.
“Every commissioner had the opportunity to do exactly what I did,” DeWine said of analyzing the original lease and meeting with health-care experts and private health-care providers.
“If someone hasn’t done that at this point, I have a hard time believing that is someone else’s fault,” DeWine said.
During the same meeting, Portune stopped in the middle of speaking on issues at least twice as Heimlich, sitting right next to him, blew his nose.
Portune also pointed out, as the Drake discussion was at hottest, that Heimlich was talking privately in another part of the room and DeWine had left the room.
Portune also complained that DeWine’s Blackberry rang while he was speaking.