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Clark County continues talk on UMC secrecy

Clark County commissioners have varying comfort levels with the idea of giving the public hospital’s board the power to have closed-door meetings to talk about plans and ideas that would interest competitors.

Commissioners on Tuesday discussed the idea submitted by University Medical staff to lobby for a bill in the 2015 legislative session that would allow the hospital board to go into closed session to talk about plans and strategies that a competitor could potentially disrupt.

Commissioners haven’t yet made a decision on whether to pursue the bill in 2015, but will look at more detailed potential language for a proposal in a couple of weeks.

This year a new nine-member hospital board, appointed by commissioners, began meeting. It has the power to approve contracts, set policies and plan the budget, which is then approved by commissioners.

The Nevada open meeting law requires that boards of government agencies meet in public, posting agendas and keeping minutes of the proceedings. Only narrow exemptions, such as discussing personnel discipline or a lawsuit, allow boards to meet in closed session.

Hospital CEO Lawrence Barnard said that with open meetings all the time, board members don’t have a comfort level to talk about expansion plans or using facilities without competitors catching wind of the idea. He said a former unspecified employer he previously worked with rented a building for competitive reasons after hearing that UMC was interested in it.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said commissioners don’t go into closed session to talk about strategy, adding that they have had some “pretty frank and ugly discussions” in public as part of the openness.

Sisolak said he has confidence in the county’s legal counsel on the issue, but noted it’s easy for agencies to potentially stray. He pointed to the recent controversy with the Washoe County School Board, which removed its superintendent under secretive circumstances that call into question whether officials there broke the open meeting law.

“The school district up north probably had confidence in their attorney, too,” Sisolak said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said it’s a “very slippery slope” and she wouldn’t support the measure if it mirrored the 2013 bill. Clark County in 2013 unsuccessfully pushed a bill that would have allowed the county to form a hospital board with the ability to go into closed sessions to talk about competitive issues.

“If it goes back to what we did two years ago, I’m not there,” she said.

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said she’d like to see the potential language, saying the important issue merits a look.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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