Council tables hospital land vote

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, January 16, 2019

City vote was 3-2

The Atmore City Council tabled a resolution at its Jan. 14 meeting to donate 10 acres of the Rivercane Industrial Complex for the construction of a new hospital after Councilman Chris Walker filed an informal opinion request to decide whether or not he can vote or abstain.

Walker is an employee of United Bank, the only financial institution that has the new market tax credit program. Financing of the new hospital will be beneficial because the 10 acres is located in a new market tax credit area.

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“On behalf of myself, the city’s attorney, Larry Wettermark, has actually sent into the executive director of the (Alabama) ethic’s commission an informal opinion request for me,” Walker said. “Due to my position at United Bank, and the possibility that United Bank may be at some form or fashion associated with some type of financing for this particular hospital, we have requested this informal opinion from the ethics director as to whether or not I should vote or whether or not I should abstain. This opinion is probably going to take a week to two weeks to come back in the form of a letter stating as to what I should do. With that being said, I would like for this particular item to be tabled or revisited at which time I receive the letter back informing me of what I should do as to the voting on this.”

This latest action comes less than a month after a public hearing was held by the Escambia County Healthcare Authority and the Atmore Community Hospital Board, and some two months after the city council took no action on the donation.

As recently as Nov. 29, 2018, the ECHA and ACH boards announced that plans to build a new hospital for the city are moving forward after a feasibility study recommended taking the action based on the age and condition of ACH.

Adams Management Services Corporation, along with Johnson Healthcare Real Estate, Goodwyn Mills Cawood and Healthcare Program Advisors conducted the study, which recommended the construction of a new facility that would hold 27 inpatient beds, 10 emergency room beds, 1-2 operating rooms, an ICU, and offer other services such as MRI, CT scan, echocardiogram, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, X-ray and urgent care services. The study looked at ACH historical data, state discharge data, the local healthcare market and changing demographic trends.

Wettermark said state law provides that any public employee may make an informal request from the ethics director.

Wettermark said as to why the request was informal is because after viewing the facts and speaking to representatives at United Bank and the ECHA, he felt like an informal opinion was required.

ECHA Chairman Nancy Lowrey, who serves on the ECHA board and is chairwoman of the ACH board, was present at the city council meeting.

When asked for comment, Lowrey said, “I’m disappointed that we can’t get a vote on it.”

On the tabling of the resolution, Councilmembers Jerome Webster, Webb Nall and Walker voted “aye,” while Susan Smith and Chris Harrison voted “no.”

In other business, the council:

• approved Resolution 2019-02 for a street resurfacing project to Civil Southeast LLC, an engineering group in Andalusia, for a resurfacing project for Oak Hill Avenue, from Main Street to Peachtree Street; for Howard Street, from Highway 21 to Short Street; for Church Street, from Highway 21 to Medical Park Drive; 2nd Avenue, from Church Street to Highway 31; for 1st Avenue, from Pine Street to McRae Street; for Forest Hill Drive and Brookwood Road, from Rockaway Creek Road on. Total cost of the project is $645,734;

• proclaimed January as National Mentoring Month, and this week as school choice week;

• heard information in regard to the Martin Luther King Holiday and day of service. The annual unity prayer breakfast will be held in the Mayson Auditorium at ACH from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 19, and the annual MLK Day Parade begins at 10 a.m. on Jan. 21.

The city council’s next meeting is Mon., Jan. 28, at 4 p.m.