McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 14, 2013

Hospital may seek respite on $500,000 city debt limitation

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — McAlester Regional Health Center Chief Executive Officer David Keith expects to ask city voters to either make a change in the city charter or else approve the hospital’s going over the $500,000 indebtedness mark.

Keith addressed the matter while making a quarterly report to city councilors during the regular Tuesday night meeting of the McAlester City Council held in the council chambers at City Hall.

The News-Capital noted in a Nov. 8 article that Keith’s presentation to the MRHC Board of Trustees regarding the hospital’s participation with Dr. Jon McCauley in a proposed $2.7-to-$3 million project to construct a new renal dialysis center did not address provisions in the city charter regarding the $500,000 limitation.

MRHC is a trust of the city of McAlester. The McAlester City Charter has provisions governing the sale of real property or indebtedness in excess of $500,000 without first getting approval from voters in the city.

During his presentation to the city council, Keith spoke of the planned new dialysis center, which he said would double the number of dialysis units from 12 to 24.

He also spoke of the plans to construct a new Emergency Department and intensive care facility.

“Our ICU is full,” said Keith, who is also head of the McAlester Chamber of Commerce. He spoke of the need to purchase high-cost new hospital equipment, which he said is also made more difficult by the $500,000 limitation.

Keith said the limitation has been in place since the 1970s and that $500,000 in 1974 dollars is now worth $2.38 million.

“You can use whatever calculators you want,” Keith said, referring to the numbers he’d just used.

Keith said the city charter is more stringent than state statutes and he offered his opinion that the state statute could supersede tougher restrictions at the city level.

If Keith’s purpose had been to float a trial balloon, none of the councilors — who, of course, are elected by city voters, not state voters — grabbed hold of it. Further discussion centered on the restrictions in the city charter, not ways to bypass it.

During the meeting, Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason said he read the News-Capital article about  the plans for the new dialysis center and he also noted the plans to build the new emergency department and ICU facility.

“These are projects that in my mind are going to exceed the $500,000 for a public trust,” Mason said.

Mason, who is also the vice mayor, said he saw only two ways to resolve the situation.

“You either have to have an election for the public to approve it, or change the charter,” Mason said.

“If you change the charter, it takes a vote of the people,” Mason said — noting that an election would have to be held in either situation.

Keith said he would like to discuss the matter further.

“After the first of the year, I need to sit down with the council and the mayor,” Keith said.

He referred to the fact that he hadn’t been in McAlester when the city charter provisions were added putting the $500,000 limitation in place.

“I don’t have the wisdom of the past,” Keith said.

He also indicated the $500,000 limitation has been something new to him in his career as a hospital administrator.

“It’s not something I’ve experienced before,” Keith said. “I’m going to need some guidance on it.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.