Hawkins withdraws his name from Jackson Health System board post

In a kerfuffle with echoes from political battles almost two decades ago, former Miami-Dade commissioner and state legislator Larry Hawkins announced Monday he was withdrawing his name from nomination to the Jackson Health System board.

Hawkins, 68, who had been nominated to be the unions’ representative on the seven-member board, sent a letter to the clerk of courts saying he was “deeply honored” by the nomination but “after considering the time commitment and the physical demands associated with fulfilling the responsibilities of this position, I have decided to decline this opportunity to serve.”

In a telephone interview, Hawkins said his decision “had nothing to do with Katy Sorenson,” who defeated him in the 1994 election for his commission seat and had been calling journalists and union leaders objecting to his nomination.

Sorenson, now president the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami, gave The Herald a statement on Friday: “It’s disturbing that the union, which represents so many hard-working women, would appoint a person with such disdain for women and a record of ethics violations.”

In 1995, the state ethics commission fined Hawkins $5,000 after finding that he had sexually harassed three aides while county commissioner. Hawkins, a disabled Vietnam vet who uses a wheelchair, said he had never made lewd comments and his actions had been misunderstood.

Hawkins also has strong supporters. On Monday, before Hawkins withdrew, Phillis Oeters, a South Florida civic leader, praised him as a “brilliant choice” for Jackson’s board because he knows a lot about healthcare and had a long reputation of government service.

Oeters decried dredging up charges from two decades ago. “As a society, can’t we forgive and forget, if forgiveness is even necessary in this case? ... We need the best and the brightest in the county to serve.”

Oeters, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and a vice president of Baptist Health South Florida, said her remarks reflected her personal views, not those of the organizations.

In his letter to the clerk’s office, Hawkins said he decided to withdraw because “over the past few days, I have had numerous conversations with current board members ... and have spoken with CEO Carlos Migoya regarding the meeting schedules and operations,” which include monthly committee days that start about 7 a.m. and end sometimes past 5 p.m.

Hawkins said his mother is in hospice care and his life was too busy to add Jackson to his schedule. He said that Sorenson, as commissioner, had approved him for volunteer board posts and he was mystified why she would object now based on old allegations. Jackson board members get no salary for their service.

County bylaws allow the unions to name one person to Jackson’s board. Last week, Andy Madtes, president of the South Florida AFL-CIO, announced Hawkins’ selection, which was scheduled to go to the County Commission Wednesday for approval.

On Monday, union leaders issued a statement accepting Hawkins’ decision to withdraw.

In a statement, Martha Baker, president of SEIU Local 1991, said: “Providing our patients and community with cutting edge, fully accessible patient care is our primary goal. We will be putting forward a new appointee as soon as possible...” She said a new nominee will be selected before the next commission meeting on March 5.

The SEIU local represents nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals at Jackson.

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