Jackson Health System is one step closer to tapping $830 million in public money approved by Miami-Dade voters last year for construction projects and improvements after officials for the taxpayer-owned hospital network on Wednesday selected five finalists for a promised citizens’ panel to watch over spending.
Three of the five finalists will be appointed to the panel by Miami-Dade commissioners, possibly at their next board meeting on Oct. 21.
Three other members have already been appointed: Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of SEIU 1991, the labor union representing Jackson nurses and physicians; Chad Friedman, a Miami attorney appointed by the League of Cities; and Michael Mena, an attorney appointed by the Miami-Dade Delegation.
But at least three vacancies remain on the nine-member panel.
Under the ordinance creating the volunteer board, members should have professional experience in one of the following areas: accounting, architecture, emergency medical services, engineering, law or real estate development.
Miami-Dade commissioners will choose their five appointees from among those recommended by a nominating committee for the Public Health Trust that runs Jackson. In addition, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the Miami-Dade Delegation, the Miami-Dade League of Cities and Jackson’s labor unions are each allowed to appoint one member.
The vacancies remaining on the citizens’ panel are the mayor’s appointee, and seats for members with expertise in real estate development and architecture.
Gimenez is still considering his appointment, said Paulette Acevedo, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.
Since the citizens’ panel has enough members for a quorum, the nominating committee for the Public Health Trust that governs Jackson agreed Wednesday to name candidates for the real estate developer and architect seats at a later date.
The five finalists selected Wednesday include two engineers, Jose Luis Gomez and Silvia Fernandez; two accountants, Nestor Caballero and Geraldine Lazarre; and a city of Miami firefighter/paramedic, Sigfredo Delgado.
The interview process Wednesday was informal and included lunch with the nominating committee.
Joe Arriola, a Jackson trustee, could be overheard telling the engineers that their role was to provide their “professional opinion” on projects and expenditures.
The hospital board’s nominating committee has taken nearly a year to propose a list of candidates for the citizens advisory panel — which was promised by Jackson trustees and administrators during their campaign to win voter approval for the hospital building projects, which will be financed through property-tax increases.
“It has taken a little bit longer than expected,’’ said Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, a member of the nominating committee. But she pledged that “not a penny” of the bond money will be spent until the citizens’ advisory panel is in place.
“This is truly going to be a checks-and-balances system,’’ she said.
However, the panel will serve an advisory role only, with no authority to approve or deny projects. Those decisions rest with Jackson trustees and the County Commission, which is able to overturn any action by the hospital board.
The panel will provide its opinion to the hospital board and commissioners on whether spending projects meet the spirit and language of the ballot measure approved by voters in November 2013.
Jackson already has launched a website promised by CEO Carlos Migoya that will track the progress of building projects and infrastructure improvements, list vendors and contractors, and report spending.
All materials provided to the citizens’ advisory panel by Jackson staff also will be posted to the website, said Matthew Pinzur, a spokesman for the county hospital system.
Hospital officials haven’t started spending the money yet, but Miami-Dade commissioners have approved a request from Gimenez’s office to issue up to $101 million in general obligation bonds to start funding the Jackson projects.
That first series of bonds has not been sold yet, according to Miami-Dade officials. The bonds are to be priced in November and closed in December.
Among the first projects to be financed by the new money: patient room renovations, a new rehabilitation hospital and a new pediatric outpatient center, plus medical equipment and computer software.