Memorial lease campaign pushes for voter approval

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Voters have until Aug. 28 to return their mail ballots for the Memorial special election.

Get ready for direct-mail pieces, yard signs by the hundreds and TV commercials — all part of an aggressive campaign for voter approval of Memorial Health System’s lease to University of Colorado Health.

Endless hours of closed-door meetings and years of public deliberation will culminate Aug. 28 when the mail-ballot election ends and the lease’s fate is decided.

Proponents aren’t leaving the outcome to mere chance.

They’ve launched Great City, Great Cares, a campaign to ensure victory. The campaign heated up this week as ballots were mailed and will continue through election night.

The price of the mail election, roughly $210,000, is being paid for by the University of Colorado Hospital, with Poudre Valley Health System, a partner in the lease agreement, covering the campaign.

As of Tuesday, PVHS had spent $288,765.96 on the pro-lease effort — some of that as payment for consultants, including Stephannie Finley, UCCS’ executive director of advocacy and partnerships; Colorado Media Group; Evans Consulting; and MIDG Group.

The bulk, however, went to creation of a website, printed materials and paid advertising created by Colorado Media Group. That money was used to create television ads, Finley said.

“It’s a Front Range effort,” said Finley, a former Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce executive who is working part-time on the campaign. “And it’s really grassroots. This is important to the local community, and we want local community involvement.”

As for the pro-lease bombardment, Finley says, “We’re working every angle, really getting involved with people, speaking to groups, to anyone who wants to know the details of the lease. We’re meeting and talking — really letting people know this is a great deal for the city.”

The lease agreement gives University of Colorado Health — a collaboration between the University of Colorado Hospital and Poudre Valley Health System — the rights to lease the hospital for 40 years. The lease will give the city $74 million up front with payments of $5.6 million annually during the first 30 years of the 40-year lease. It also will give $185 million in a single, up-front payment that will allow the city to resolve the issues surrounding the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which has calculated it will cost Memorial $246 million to exit the program. But the city disagrees.

And while supporters read like a who’s who of local business, civic and community leaders, they are facing an anonymous opposition. Two groups — Our City, Our Care and No Hospital Scam — have set up websites opposing the lease arrangement. There are some yard signs scattered around the city, as well, but no one seems to know who the groups are, who’s funding them or who’s supporting them.

The groups plan to keep it that way. Both organizations are responding to e-mail, without identifying themselves. No Hospital Scam’s response to questions was brusque.

“Volunteers do not wish to be identified because they fear city and state government retaliation,” said an e-mail.

The message appears to be the same from Our City, Our Cares. They wish to remain anonymous, and they’ve received no donations — at least according to e-mails.

But campaign groups are required to register with the city, said Colorado Springs City Councilor Jan Martin.

“I have no doubt we’ll be looking into this,” she said. “I’m sure we will — it appears to be a violation of the law.”

Legal issues aside, both groups say that participation is voluntary and the volunteers are people who are concerned about the city’s health care.

“(They are) citizens scared of losing the ability to choose the health care that is right for them. Citizens scared of losing jobs and opportunities to Denver,” said the Our City, Our Cares response.

While no one is saying who the volunteers and supporters are, the groups claim that opposition to the lease is growing.

Famed tax opponent Douglas Bruce denied being involved with the groups, saying he agreed with the opposition and the need for anonymity.

“I’ve had enough political backlash to last me a lifetime,” Bruce said. “And maybe these people are worried that the same thing will happen to them that happened to me for opposing the government in ballot initiatives. It’s no secret that I oppose this lease, though.”

Bruce recently was released from Denver County Jail after serving about four months of a six-month term for tax evasion.

But Finley and the supporters aren’t backing down — nor are they too worried.

“I don’t think you can be too concerned with a group that won’t even say who they are,” she said. “We had a forum a few weeks ago, and the college (UCCS) wanted to find the opposing view. They couldn’t find anyone.”

Public opinion appears to favor the lease supporters. In a news conference earlier this week, Mayor Steve Bach said a Great City, Great Cares poll showed that 67 percent of likely voters favored the lease, with 21 percent opposed and 11 percent undecided.

“That’s who we’re going after,” Finley said. “We want this to be a landslide.”

It certainly seems to have wide support among the area’s political and business leaders. Mayor Steve Bach called it “a watershed moment,” and UCCS chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said it would strengthen the city and the university.

Former state Sen. Andy McElhany offered his support, as did Colorado Springs Conservatory executive director Linda Weise, Peak Vista Foundation president B.J. Scott and University of Colorado regent Kyle Hybl. The group held yard signs in support of the initiative.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Finley said. “We plan to keep pushing this for the next three weeks.”

Bach said he was supportive because only “once in a hundred years do we in our community get to take a quantum leap forward. This is one of those moments.”

Campaign finance information

Total contributions: $288,765.96

June expenses

Evans Consulting $2,600

Stephannie Finley $5,000

MIDG Group $13,500

July expenses

Evans Consulting $2,600

Stephannie Finley $5,000

MIDG Group $13,500

Colorado Media Group brochures, direct mail and website: $15,718.93, consulting fee of $10,000 and paid media of $220,847.