The Jackson Health System board awarded a $6.7 million contract Monday for architectural services on a new rehabilitation facility, the first major project funded with nearly $1 billion in public money approved by Miami-Dade voters in 2013 to improve and expand the county’s aging public hospital network.
But the board’s approval of the contract with HDR Architecture did not fulfill a campaign promise by local elected officials and leaders of the county’s public hospital network that any money spent would be monitored by a citizens’ advisory committee and detailed on a publicly-accessible website.
During nearly two hours of debate Monday, one Jackson trustee said that he had not been adequately informed of the contract negotiation details — and that the hospital system’s staff had not followed through with agreed-upon checklists and procedures for spending the public money.
Marcos Lapciuc, whose term on the board ends June 30, said that shortly after voters approved the referendum in 2013 he and Jackson staff devised a system for informing trustees and others how the money was being spent, including the amount, a checklist of issues and other data.
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“I have not seen this, to date,” Lapciuc said.
His comments echoed those of Darryl Sharpton, who chairs the board of trustees and called Monday’s special meeting to consider awarding the contract as recommended by hospital staff members.
Trustees originally were scheduled to vote on the contract Jan. 26 during a televised meeting, but Sharpton deferred the vote because staff members had not provided background material.
“I didn’t feel we had sufficient information to vote on the item as a board last week,” he said at Monday’s meeting.
Sharpton also said he preferred to hire a project manager before awarding the architectural contract, and wanted to ensure minority-owned small businesses were considered.
But after voting against the contract during the initial round on Monday, Sharpton changed his mind and voted to approve it. Afterward, he downplayed his previous stance, saying that the background material missing from the Jan. 26 meeting agenda packet was “a mistake.”
“I’m being adequately informed,” he said.
Jackson trustees took two votes before ratifying the architectural contract 5-1 on Monday.
Ralph Patino, appointed to the board last year by Miami-Dade commissioners, dissented and said he preferred to hire a project manager to coordinate the massive building plan, and then award an architectural contract for the new rehabilitation hospital.
“My position is we should wait,” he said.
But Carlos Migoya, chief executive of Jackson, urged trustees to act sooner rather than later — or risk potentially losing a $25 million pledge from a private donor for the rehabilitation hospital. Migoya said the donor had been promised the process would begin in November, and that was part of the reason that trustees were fast-tracking the architectural contract.
He added that selecting an architectural firm does not mean the rehabilitation hospital project is ready to begin. He said there’s still a design stage that will require tours of other rehabilitation hospitals, and that a project manager will likely be selected by March or April, allowing plenty of time for collaboration.
Still, Migoya’s promise last year of a robust website for the public to track the building and renovation projects including expenditures has yet to materialize.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who campaigned for approval of the Jackson bond, also promised that no money would be spent without review by the citizen’s advisory committee. Edmonson did not return a call for comment Monday.
Lapciuc said the citizens’ advisory committee may review the architectural contract at its next meeting. But the committee’s meeting calendar, agenda and even the names of its members are not on the Jackson website for tracking the bond program.
As of Monday afternoon, the website did not provide any substantive information about how the bond money will be spent or a timetable for construction.
Ed O’Dell, a Jackson spokesman, said the citizens committee had been given a list of projects to review but not contracts. He said the website will be updated this week with additional information, though he did not know precisely what data will be added. He also issued a statement that Monday’s debate among trustees was evidence of a transparent process.
“This is the first major project in the capital plan,” he said in the statement. “The public should be pleased that there’s a vigorous and transparent discussion on how to manage these projects in a way that’s fair, efficient, and equitable. I’m confident we will continue executing the voters’ will for the good of the whole community.”