One would think that the Singing River Board of Trustees might be a little bit more forthcoming after all of the problems and controversy that has plagued the health system over the last six month. Such is not the case as the board said the public has no right to look at their financial records. That's right. The public has no right to look at the public records of a public hospital. The Sun-Herald reported yesterday:
Singing River Health System refuses to release records that show how retirement plan funds have been invested, even though its own annual audit says the records are available to the public on request.
It is impossible to say how investments might have affected the retirement plan's health -- it is only about 48 percent funded, according to CEO Kevin Holland -- without access to plan financial statements.
The Sun Herald emailed a request March 9 to SRHS general counsel Celeste Oglesby and communications director Richard Lucas for retirement plan financial statements from 2006-2014, omitting the year 2010-2011 because the newspaper found that statement online.....
Her written response said SRHS has "no legal obligation to release such information to the Sun Herald" because the public records law exempts the documents from disclosure.
She also said SRHS, which is owned by Jackson County, could not release the records because they are the subject of litigation.
Henry Laird, a Gulfport attorney who has represented the Sun Herald in public access cases, said:
"I disagree that the requested financial records are exempt under Mississippi's Public Records Act. The exemption the hospital relies upon to deny the public's learning what has happened to the retirement plan was amended to make the requested records 'public records'," Laird said.
"I also disagree with the hospital's position that the requested financial records are exempt under the act since they are now involved in litigation regarding the retirement plan. Records which were initially created by a public body in the ordinary course of its business do not morph into something other than "public records" if they happen to be subsequently used in litigation."
In a similar case, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources denied the Sun Herald access to business records, saying they were part of a criminal investigation. The records law exempts some investigative records from disclosure. The Sun Herald prevailed in a lawsuit, when Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel found that, despite the fact that investigators had examined the records, they remained records produced in the normal course of DMR's business and were public records. Rest of article.
Kingfish note: Dear Singing River: Pulling this little stunt while the legislature is discussing the bill to open up your records is not exactly the brightest thing to do.