The news out of Montrose County this week is that the Montrose County Commissioners have stood firm behind the sacred principle that a man’s social security number is nobody’s business but his own.
Just on Monday, the Montrose Hospital Board of Trustees caved in to a demand from the commissioners that an appointee to their board, Richard Harding, should not have to submit his social security number in order to serve on the board.
These are excellent tidings to everyone who believes that social security is a socialist plot to undermine the American character.
Of course, there just might be more here than meets the eye.
The Montrose Commissioners have been in a state of war with the Montrose Memorial Hospital for several years, upholding some other principle. Although it is not entirely clear what that principle might be, it has something to do with how their own appointed Montrose Hospital Board of Trustees has overseen the county asset. Back in 2010 the trustees entered into a 50-year lease with a new nonprofit, Montrose Memorial Hospital, Inc., to operate the hospital. The county commissioners sued to overturn the validity of that lease but lost in District Court in 2011 and again on appeal in 2012.
The lease and the court rulings that upheld it have effectively removed the commissioners from any kind of direct oversight of hospital operations, which was very likely the point of it to begin with.
It is, after all, a deep-seated conservative belief that political interference with health care is dead wrong. Which is why conservatives hate the Affordable Health Care Act.
Whether they are adhering to conservative principle or not, the Montrose County Commissioners have not accepted the new order that sharply limits their management of the hospital. Instead, they’ve been hinting darkly that there is something amiss at the hospital. They’ve appointed members to the Board of Trustees, whose only official purview now is to ensure that the terms of the lease are met, with a mandate to get to the bottom of … something.
It was one of the most outspoken hospital critics, Harding, whom the commissioners appointed in December 2012, who refused to submit his social security number for the background check that the board’s policy required. That requirement for a background check may seem innocuous to you and me, but it wasn’t trivial to Harding. This battle went on for a year until a couple of months back when the trustees voted 6-1 to remove Harding from the board. Thereupon the commissioners last week, by a vote of 2-1, voted to remove three, but not all six of the trustees who voted to remove Harding.
And this week, the remaining three trustees promptly caved in to the commissioners’ demand that Harding be seated, without his meeting the requirement that his social security number be provided. And they caved in on a lot more than that. After reseating Harding, which was necessary to create a quorum, they fired their longtime attorney, David Masters (they will now use the county attorney), and terminated their lease for office space at Region 10 in favor of using free office space at the county.
Or not. Could all of this most recent drama over the Montrose Memorial Hospital really be nothing more than a tantrum against big, intrusive government and exemplary resistance to demands for a man’s social security number for no good reason?
Or was the showdown over the social security number a convenient pretext (or maybe a trumped up excuse) for remaking the board of trustees? And forcing them to bend to the commissioners’ will?
Which has now happened.
But to what end, exactly? Does anyone really know?
One imagines that the trustees’ monthly inspections of the hospital, after the commissioners appoint three new members who presumably share their agenda, might now be a lot more fraught. One wonders how easy or difficult it may be for the trustees to find a violation of the lease by Montrose Memorial Hospital, Inc. (the nonprofit that operates the hospital) that could justify an effort to break it. One anticipates that if they try, there could be more employment for lawyers.
But why? What is really at stake here?
In politics, when there is so much ado about so little that can be readily observed, it’s hard not to imagine that there must be more going on than meets the eye. One supposes there must be a lot of money hanging in the balance. Or power. Or jobs. Something material. If at least two Montrose County commissioners, David White and Ron Henderson (the third commissioner, Gary Ellis, was the nay vote on removing the three trustees), really believe that the hospital is being so badly managed that they have a duty as elected officials to protect a county asset, why don’t they just say so? Tell the public what it is they are battling to fix. If there is mismanagement at Montrose Memorial Hospital, I’m sure that many citizens of the region would be interested in hearing about it. I know a couple of reporters who’d eat it up.
There must be a scandal lurking in this mess somewhere….
Actually, my suspicion is that there is no scandal if only because White and Henderson -- considering how strongly they seem to want to punish the hospital -- would surely have exposed it by now, if there was anything to expose.
But if I’m right that there’s no underlying scandal, then that’s a scandal in itself: the flagrant waste of public resources, in the past, in the present, and very likely in the future – including staff time and legal fees, personal reputations, blown tempers, and community goodwill – on infighting that on the surface seems to be about nothing more and nothing less than small-town political egos.