Ward 1 Starkville Alderman Ben Carver warned his county counterparts during Tuesday’s public hearing on OCH Regional Medical Center’s future that selling or leasing the hospital would be “political suicide” and that he would “find people to run against” sitting incumbents if they move forward with a deal.
Carver, who left Tuesday’s Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting early to attend the second public hearing on consultant Stroudwater and Associate’s hospital assessment, said an election on the matter should be the way to decide OCH’s fate, not the five-person board of supervisors.
“Selling this hospital or voting to sell this hospital would be political suicide. I don’t have a vote here tonight, but … the best I can do is to find people to run against you and campaign against you,” he said. “These discussions create an unnecessary row within the staff and, in the community, it creates division.
“As an elected official, you’re elected to represent the people, and the sale of the hospital is directly against the will of the supermajority. Close to 98 percent of the people are against the (sale of the) hospital that I’ve spoken to,” he added. “I think you know this is a deeply-loved hospital, and the staff is highly admired.”
Besides scheduling Tuesday’s public hearing, supervisors have taken no additional action on the hospital assessment Stroudwater delivered in October.
Carver, who previously floated the possibility of running for mayor, said last week he will focus on seeking re-election as Ward 1’s representative next year.
Petition effort nears goal
OCH supporter and former Starkville Alderman Frank Davis confirmed his grassroots effort to develop a petition that would block a board-approved hospital transaction and force it to a citizen vote is close to reaching its goal of 1,500 signatures.
Davis, who led a similar petition in 2012 and 2013 when supervisors last broached a possible hospital transaction, did not reveal a specific number of obtained signatures during Tuesday’s public hearing but said the effort will continue until it reaches 2,000 signatures.
“We want to be the ones that decide whether or not we keep (OCH) or we sell or lease it,” Davis told supervisors during the question-and-answer segment of the meeting. “We will be ready if y’all (pursue a transaction) because we, the people of Oktibbeha County, will be the ones to make the decision.”
Miss. Code Ann. 41-13-15 allows governing bodies to explore a transaction after consultants review the facility’s current operating conditions.
A board-issued request for proposals, Stroudwater’s report states, would allow the county to assess its options moving forward, but the document itself does not state specifically if supervisors should sell or lease the hospital.
If supervisors move forward with the RFP and find a preferred suitor, a petition of 1,500 registered voters delivered prior to the transaction date would force the issue to a vote.
Stroudwater previously estimated OCH would pull in between $20 million and $60 million in a transaction.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch