Nov 302011

A week ago, County Commissioners voted to approve what is laughingly called a lease extension — a net 75 year lease that only resembles a sale.

Lets put the lease document aside for the moment and just look at the initial cash windfall into county coffers. According to the new contract, Union County will receive a lump sum of $54 million in January 2012.

The following WSOC-TV news-clip lays out a couple ideas.

So the $54 million question is just what to do with that all money??? Project Legacy? Project Iron-horse? or Frank Aikmus’ Project Tax Break! (visit Frank’s Facebook page: Citizens for Union County Tax Relief)

Commissioner Todd Johnson (Vice Chair) alludes to other ideas as quoted in the WSOC-TV report; “There are other issues that we need to worry about, different capital improvements.” Johnson said, “There’s also debt.”

According to the WSOC-TV report the question of a tax-cut will be on the Dec. 5 Commissioners agenda.

Stay tuned…

Dec 152010

We all know the saying, “the more things change, the more things remain the same”. Well, this rule seems to apply to every Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), so if you really expected something different then your expectations, have gone unfulfilled. If you thought 3-2 votes were thing of the past, then you’d be disappointed again. Opposition to the previous board seem to harp on that issue often, as did critics of the previous board to them as well. Union County is diverse to use a “Democrat” word and so unified decisions will be rare — especially given the stakes. If you’re curious, just peruse the campaign contributors to Messieurs Simpson, Thomas and Johnson, as in 2006 the money tells all.

But not to disappoint you completely, we did have one five-0 vote — Jerry Simpson was elected to lead the board as chairman. After that, all 3-2′s and even a 4-1 vote?

Since it was an organizational meeting, the primary business was taking the oath of office and then appointing members to the various boards and committees they serve on throughout the County.

A few of the highlights: Jerry Simpson chose to serve on MUMPO, the CMC Hospital Board of Directors, and as school board liaison; Jonathan Thomas will serve as Fire Commissioner as well as both on the CMC Hospital executive board and the Community Trustees Council serving CMC, Todd Johnson was appointed to Parks and Recreation and the Library board. Kim Rogers and Tracy Kuehler drew all the lessor known or non-political boards.

Now, this is not unusual considering how the BOCC functions in years past. But it hardly jives with all the hype promoted by a couple of the newly installed Commissioners espousing of a “new tone”, a cooperative attitude among Commissioners.

If the Jays were really interested in a new tone, it would’ve left Kim Rogers as the school board liaison. That’s not to say that Jerry Simpson couldn’t do the job, however Kim Rogers has a long history and knowledge base that is a much greater value to the board.

A Missed Opportunity

What the Jays missed was an opportunity to extend an “Olive Branch”, to really be different from previous boards. To actually surpass the hyperbole — they could have done it! But they didn’t. You have to wonder why — why couldn’t they have made this one small concession which would’ve gone extraordinarily far to disprove the expectations?

There was no carryover of hard feelings from a previous board, no history of bad blood from poor treatment like Pressley or Openshaw. So folks, for all intents and purpose, the East-West divide continues.

Aside from committees, the new majority decided to fire the County Attorney, Keith Merritt, who had served in the position for the last two years. I don’t have an issue with appointing a new attorney, they serve ‘at the will’ of the Board of County Commissioners.

Apparently some board members thinks that position should be served by a Union County-based attorney — keeping the money local. This is not a new argument, but in fact one that has been a definitive difference between boards.

In the year 2010 so far, Union County has spent $541,000 on attorneys fees, including the County Attorney, who billed a total of $137,646 for services rendered. The single biggest legal bills came from Union County’s own and likely successor to Mr. Merritt, Mr. Ligon Bundy who billed the County for a total of $239,579. The remaining fees were paid to law firms based both in and outside of Union County.

To summarize, the first meeting of the new majority did not begin a new era of cooperation, but to be fair, nor did they begin by digging themselves a hole that they will never get out of either.

Jun 172010

Our local medical conglomerate and politically favored monopoly is once again using it’s deep pockets to try to influence western residents to support the ER boondoggle they’ve built Waxhaw.

Fresh off the May primary election victory where their presence and influence through surrogates provided the clarion call to employees and citizens alike to vote for corporate interests rather than their own at the ballot box. Beyond the opaque veneer of white resides a Machiavellian strategy that leads the old Union County establishment club by the nose and to the determent of the taxpayer. History and lease revisions prove this beyond argument.

The following mass mailer began arriving in area mailboxes yesterday and once again, like a blood centrifuge, the millionaire prince spins a concoction of fibs intending to enrage citizens who typically wouldn’t buy a pig in a poke.

Contrary to flourishes in the mailer, the County Commissioners have not budged from their objection to the changes made to the deal after the ER building was built.

CMC-Waxhaw Flyer-front-back
Click image to enlarge

The idea of a local ER is attractive to most citizens and parents, until they find out the real cost of this boondoggle and make no mistake, the taxpayers of Union County are bearing the cost, but reaping NO investment value.

Union County will pay 72% (approximately $17 Million) of the full cost of the ER (which by the way is not really a standalone building) over a 10 YEAR lease, at the end of which, Carolina Health Services will own everything for 27 cents on a dollar, with 40 years of useful life left on the building.

For them a GREAT DEAL, for the Union County taxpayer – a body slam.

Ready for the head lock?

AMBULANCES will NOT go to CMC-WAXHAW, except for those LEVEL 1 trauma cases that warrant a helicopter transport to CMC-Charlotte.

Do you know how much an Ambulance ride costs?

Should you have to pay for two of them???

If your emergency condition warrants a hospital stay, you will then have to pay for transport to CMC-Union or Presbyterian Matthews. The CMC-WAXHAW boondoggle is a ‘walk-in’ facility – a very expensive ‘Urgent’ care center that runs 24 hours a day. (Reader note: CHS’s application to the state is source of this information)

CHS proudly trumpets the lightly used Steele Creek facility, but they don’t mention that UNLIKE the CMC-Waxhaw proposal, they paid to build Steele Creek. In Union County, we pay for it and they own it.

“Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions” –Niccolo Machiavelli

Union County Weekly: Why have CMC-Waxhaw negotiations stalled?

    “We can’t negotiate with someone who’s not willing to consider changing their proposal,” said County Commissioner Tracy Kuehler.
    As it stands, CHS is proposing that CMC-Union lease the building for $12.1 million over 10 years. The lease payments are in addition to the $5.2 million the Monroe hospital plans to pay to outfit the $28 million Waxhaw facility’s interior. That offer hasn’t changed since 2009, when discussions on a lease started in earnest.
    Repeated phone calls and e-mails to CMC-Union President Michael Lutes and CHS Assistant Vice ¬President of Public Relations Gail Rosenberg have gone unanswered over the last two weeks. A flyer distributed to Waxhaw-area residents by CHS says that the organization is “working diligently with the Union County Board of Commissioners to ensure the facility will open in 2011,” further encouraging residents to call individual commissioners to express support.

Mar 142010
Commissioner Tracy Keuhler

Commissioner Tracy Kuehler

Citizens of Union County deserve honesty, not scare-tactics designed to create hysteria. The high-priced advertisement strategically placed in local papers by Carolinas Healthcare System is not about informing the public. I believe you deserve the truth — the whole truth:

1. The opening line about “your ” Emergency Department: Under the current proposal by CHS, CHS owns the land, the building, and is charging us (CMC-Union) rent for use and upfits for that building. We will, in turn, pay for approximately 70% of the land and building value in the next 10 years, at which time the lease expires. CHS will have a paid-for facility with 40 years of useful life left and we will have no equity in the facility or the land, as well as no location to continue operation of the ED. It was never going to be “yours”.

2. CHS requested permission from the State to build the facility and were, at first, denied. Additionally, Presbyterian challenged the request, which has resulted in the delay of the opening. CHS currently has permission to open the facility in September 2010 (I believe that’s the date dictated by the State). The fact that it is currently not operational has nothing to do with the County. They are “not yet caring for patients” because of their timeline, not because of politics. The only “politics” have been created by CHS’s actions.

3. There was no “surprise” that monies would have to be spent. The “surprise” was that the application filed in 2006, the proposal given to the County in January 2008, and the subsequent State approval, all stated that the land would be purchased by CHS, the building would be built by CMC-Union reserves, and that we (CMC-Union) would have a 50 year ground lease in the amount of $90,000 per year to operate the facility. The current proposal is for CHS to finance the entire project and lease the facility — not for 50 years, but for 10 – again, over which time we will have paid almost 70% of the value of the land and building for no equity in the facility. In essence, it is like me having a piece of land and building a shell of a house on it. I am willing to lease the house to you, but you must install the flooring, the appliances, the light fixtures, etc., and pay me rent in an amount that pays off my mortgage (not over a traditional 30 years, but over the next 10). At the end of the lease, you must vacate the house. You can take the outdated computer, television, and couch that you provided, but you obviously can’t remove the flooring or other fixtures you paid for. You have nothing to show for your investment — but my property and house are paid for. Would you take that deal? Staff, the attorneys, and our advisors recommended against it and as stewards of your money, we were offended by it.

4. The change from a 50 yr lease to a 10 yr. by CHS is (according to them) because of the uncertainty of the disposition of the main hospital. Their statement that Commissioners have tied the ED to the main hospital is not true – CHS has done that. Commissioners have certainly had questions about how one affects the other, but CHS is the entity that tied the two together from an operating standpoint. The lease on the main hospital (which, again, is why CHS claims they changed the ED lease term from 50 to 10), has always had a termination date of 2020. The hospital lease expired in 2020 when CHS asked for the ED in 2006 containing a 50 year lease; it expired in 2020 when CHS asked the County for a Certificate of Awareness to include a 50 yr. lease; and it still, today, expires in 2020. Nothing has changed from the County — CHS changed the terms.

5. We aren’t debating “unrelated issues.” We are debating the inequitable change of terms by CHS at the 11th hour on this facility. We were not notified of their intent to change the original terms until late November/December 2009 (just a few months ago). And when they notified the State of the change in financing, they didn’t inform us of that notification, nor did they tell the State about the change in the length of the lease, exactly like they have neglected to inform you of that change. CHS could make this facility operational by doing what they promised to do from the inception of this project. They have refused to do so.

6. As far as the “history” lesson is concerned, the omissions and misrepresentations are boundless. The change in financing is not about freeing up the money for other projects as claimed — it is about protecting their own interest, because CHS claimed in their CON application that: “CMC-Union and CHS has sufficient funds to provide financial support to ALL projects now proposed or under construction as well as the project for the CMC-Union Healthplex.” I don’t have an issue at this late date with the decision to change the financing if it merely involved a change from an upfront payment to an installment repayment, as long as we had the originally proposed 50-year lease. Don’t you find it odd that I have mentioned the 50 vs. 10 year lease more than several times in my response — yet you don’t see it once in CHS’s scare-tactic ad?

7. The vote that occurred in April 2008 about extending a lease is misrepresented at best. There was NO actual lease on the table, only a memorandum of terms. The end result looked nothing like the intended result. That is why staff recommended that the previous Board hire experts to level the playing field. As a result, we were advised that the proposed lease extension was not in the best interest of the county. The Board NEVER decided NOT to pursue a long-term lease with CHS. The November 2009 vote that Mr. Phillips references specifically included instructions that Kaufman Hall continue lease negotiations with CHS. Mr. Phillips only told you they were hired to sell the hospital–NOT TRUE. Mr. Phillips has had many conversations with me about moving forward with a lease and several offers were extended verbally; but despite promises from him to present a new lease, he never saw fit to put anything in writing.

This is a very complex issue with tons of information. Anyone who professes to know what the solution should be at this point is either naive or driven by a political agenda. I am accountable to the citizens of Union County; CHS is only accountable to themselves and their investors. The true tragedy of this move by Mr. Phillips is that this did nothing to move negotiations forward. Instead of fulfilling their own promise, CHS chose to draw the proverbial line in the sand. I have always been willing to honor the original agreement and you (the citizens) should demand that CHS do the same.

Tracy Kuehler
Vice-Chair Union County Board of Commissioners

Mar 102010

Click Image below to view and save as a Adobe PDF

CHS Full-Page Advertisement Debunked

Click Image above to view and save as a Adobe PDF

The paid full page advertisement, above by Carolinas Healthcare Systems placed in the Sunday Enquirer Journal and Charlotte Observer. The comments and notes attached are based in documented fact.

Note: The page layout is 8.5 inches wide and 17 inches long. If you wish to print the PDF file, change your printer page ‘scaling’ settings to “none” so as to print across two pages. Otherwise the advertising text may be unreadable.

Mar 092010
As Chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners I felt it was my responsibility to respond to the regrettable advertisement by Carolinas Healthcare Systems (CHS). I can’t speak for the other commissioners, but I support a Waxhaw ED and have heard every other Commissioner state that same support.

Chairwoman Kim Rogers

Chairwoman Kim Rogers

I am deeply disturbed by the unprofessionalism of the CHS executive promoting this advertisement, which contains many statements that are either misleading or factually incorrect. Just one example among many is the proclamation made by CHS, that the Board decided not to pursue a long-term lease. Yet, they go on to state that the County hired Kaufman Hall for the potential sale of the hospital, neglecting to inform you that the hiring of Kaufman Hall, which was unanimously supported by CMC-Union’s Community Trustee Council, included a long-term lease negotiation with CHS (in complete contradiction to their earlier assertion). CHS has been a partner with Union County for the past 15 years and is in the business of providing healthcare to our citizens. To resort to paying for full-page advertisements for the sole purpose of using scare tactics to promote their business position in an ongoing negotiation indicates to me that it is more important than ever to watch out for the interests of Union County citizens. The people of this county deserve better.

Prompted by the CHS advertisement, I have received phone calls from people who were angered by Carolinas Healthcare System’s flagrant attempt to politicize this issue. These people understand that the change in proposal, instigated by CHS, is not in the best interest of the citizens of Union County.

Let me be very clear, the county staff and financial and legal experts have advised the Commissioners that both lease proposals by CHS, the Waxhaw ED and Union Regional Hospital are not in the best interests of Union County and when the leases expire, Union County would not have a functioning ED. We cannot be deterred by the emotional response that CHS is trying to invoke, but must make our decisions based on facts and with the best interests of Union County citizens in our minds and in our hearts.

You elected me because you know I look at the facts, because you know I have acquired significant business acumen, and you know that my decisions will be based on those things and not emotion, political pressure, or special interest – even if that special interest is presented as a non-profit. Carolinas Health Care needs to let the proposal and negotiations stand on its own merits without resorting to underhanded tactics that only serve to show the citizens that there is a reason for their subterfuge. Do not attempt to manipulate the public or beat the policy makers into submission. I don’t have a battalion of lawyers to help me write this, nor am I an executive of a non-profit making hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary, but I am a representative of the taxpayers that are tired of large corporations with high salaried executives taking money out of our pockets and exerting undue influence over our elected officials. Americans are fed up with that type of ploy – as is evidenced throughout our country.

Follow the lease agreement you have with the County, follow the proposal you submitted to the State and presented to the BOCC, then let’s get this much needed emergency department open as soon as the state will allow.

Kim Rogers
Union County Board of County Commissioners