Council schedules meeting about Memorial ballot question

After years of discussion, task-force and commission meetings and closed-door talks, the Colorado Springs City Council is preparing to ask voters  whether to lease Memorial Health System to the University of Colorado Hospital.

City Council will hold a special meeting at 1 p.m. Wednesday, May 16 at the Blue River Boardroom on the fifth floor of the Plaza of the Rockies South Tower, 121 S. Tejon St. The first part of the meeting – expected to be about two hours – City Council will meet as the board of directors for Colorado Springs Utilities.

After that, they will meet to set the election calendar for the lease vote. Following the calendar, Council is also planning a closed executive session to discuss legal issues involving both Memorial Health System and potential litigation matters. May 16 was the date City Council set to have Chris Melcher, city attorney, weigh in on the legality of Dr. Larry McEvoy’s severance package. McEvoy ‘s severance earned the ire of City Council and the attention of residents when the former Memorial Health System Board of Trustees promised him 18 months’ salary, the CEO’s car, insurance benefits and help finding a new job. Al together, the severance equaled $1.15 million.

As a result, City Council asked the board to resign and removed members who refused to step down.

But the UCH lease process has roots that go much deeper than the controversy surrounding the exiting CEO’s severance. The city has been trying to find the best way to exit the hospital business since 2009. After a citizens’ commission met for nine months and issued a 173-page report recommending Memorial become an independent, stand-alone nonprofit.

But City Council changed hands as a task force was determining lease arrangements for the nonprofit. Instead, the new council appointed another task force – which included hand-picked members of the Regional Leadership Forum – and started over. The ultimate decision was to lease the hospital to an existing system, one operating within the state. After receiving five bids – including one from Memorial’s board for a nonprofit and one backing up that decision from its rival, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services – the task force and the City Council chose UCH.

That decision led to months of behind-the-scenes negotiations to get to the details of the lease arrangements. Voters will have a chance to vote on that lease Aug. 28, which is the tentative date for the special election.