Mayor joins Memorial task force

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Mayor Steve Bach will take part in ongoing discussions about the future of Memorial Health System.

The mayor’s office, which under the new strong mayor regulations in the city charter, has no statutory authority over the municipal hospital, chose to participate after city council voted to allow the mayor and the Regional Leadership Forum to handle an expedited request for proposals process.

The task force, made up of three city council members and three members of the Regional Leadership Forum, will determine the best group to lease the hospital’s assets from the city.

Bach has criticized the Memorial Citizens’ Commission, appointed by city council, for not adequately looking at all options before deciding to recommend that the city turn the hospital into an independent nonprofit.

The process has been derailed by a fight with the Public Employees Retirement Association over how much Memorial will have to pay to leave the pension plan. PERA officials say they must pay to cover current retirees, as well as the future payments to fully vested employees. Memorial contends that the employees are leaving the system – and that equates to being fired or quitting – and it owes nothing to PERA.

A $50 million offer from Memorial to settle its PERA responsibilities was turned down by the group, which says the hospital must pay between $150 million and $246 million to exit the public pension plan.

A decision on the RFP is expected by December, 2011, and city council will set an election for voters to decide the hospital’s path in 2012.