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Aug 6, 2010 1:13 PM by Melissa Canone

Teaching Hospital Panel Meetings May Be Closed To Public

NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) - The chairman for the governing board of
the planned, publicly funded $1.2 billion state teaching hospital
in New Orleans said he isn't certain whether future meetings of the
panel will be open to the public.
Chairman Robert Yarborough said Thursday that the full board for
the University Medical Center will make its decision as the first
item on the board's agenda when it meets Aug. 25, and he said he's
"leaning" to push that the meetings be public.
Yarborough said he wants the board to be "transparent and
accountable to the public," but he said the panel isn't required
to follow the state's open meetings law.
It is not clear where the board will get its legal advice on
that question. Ray Lamonica, LSU's general counsel, said he would
be willing to give the board a legal opinion if asked - but
declined to disclose what that might be.
A private, nonprofit hospital corporation was created to oversee
the replacement for LSU's Charity Hospital and the interim hospital
the university system opened after Hurricane Katrina.
The governing board held a closed-door gathering Wednesday
during which nine of the 11 board members convened with Gov. Bobby
Jindal's legal adviser and deputy chief of staff at a New Orleans
hotel, without public notification or access. Yarborough called it
a social gathering for board members to get to know each other.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, whose district
includes the new hospital, said authorities must inspire public
faith in the taxpayer-financed effort.
"For any discussions to be had behind closed doors, it's a
process that lacks transparency, and it's certainly not the way we
want to embark on the largest economic development project we've
undertaken in a long time," said Peterson, a frequent Jindal
critic.
Among the board's initial chores is approving a business plan
and deciding how to secure an additional $425 million needed to
complete the projected construction budget. The state has $775
million on hand.
With those decisions looming, Sen. J.P. Morrell said Wednesday's
meeting was a breach of trust, regardless of what attendees talked
about. "They have to realize they are under a microscope. They
can't make that mistake again," said Morrell, D-New Orleans.
The governor doesn't have an opinion on whether the hospital
board's meetings should be open to the public, according to Jindal
spokesman Kyle Plotkin.
"That's up to the board. They are an independent entity,"
Plotkin said in an e-mail Friday.

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