Waukon City Council holds pair of special sessions, the first involving discussion and resolution approval in regard to hospital loan renewal and the second involving the hiring of a new police officer and other personnel items

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in special session Monday, July 22 to address several matters including the hiring of a police officer and a revised Anticipatory Warrant relating to Veterans Memorial Hospital’s General Fund.

Mayor Pat Stone called the meeting to order. The council approved the meeting agenda and moved into discussion of the Resolution issuing a revised Fiscal-Year 2019-2020 Anticipatory Warrant relating to the Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) General Fund. This matter relates to the approved renewal of the $750,000 loan for the hospital with a one-year extension that took place at the July 1 council meeting following a presentation from VMH CEO Mike Myers. At that meeting, Myers provided an overview of steps being taken to improve VMH’s profitability, including the hiring of a CFO with experience in making a distressed critical access hospital profitable again.

Stone opened discussion of the Resolution regarding the VMH loan at the July 22 special session by explaining his decision not to sign the anticipatory warrant following its approval by the council at its July 1 meeting. Stone indicated that VMH’s financial situation needs to be brought to light with bankruptcy as a potential outcome without a solid plan moving forward.

Council member John Ellingson discussed the negative effect of not signing the loan agreement, citing VMH’s positive economic impact on Waukon and Allamakee County as an employer of 233 individuals. Ellingson indicated that not signing the loan extension is not an appropriate action, even if the council is displeased with VMH’s current financial situation.

Council member Gayle Decker discussed the hospital’s loss of $5 million over a three-year period and indicated that the only changes he has seen is the hiring of a CFO and the closure of the VMH Monona Clinic. Ellingson discussed reductions in revenue relating to Medicaid payments and changes with managed care organizations (MCO) as being factors in the hospital’s recent financial difficulties and that other critical access hospitals are facing similar revenue issues.

Decker indicated that a change in management is needed and discussed his breakdown of the hospital’s financials including losses of $36,000 per week over the last 36 months. City Attorney Jim Garrett provided an overview of options available if bankruptcy were to be pursued. Decker indicated that VMH has begun the process of taking a hard look at expenses, which is a very positive step.

Council member Arvid Hatlan addressed Decker’s earlier comments relating to a change in management by indicating that the hiring of a CFO is change and that Myers, as current CEO, needs to be part of the process by working with the CFO. Stone expressed his own concerns relating to Myers, and Hatlan offered his continued support of the hospital.

Decker further discussed the impact negative financials have on the value of the hospital and that a strong board and strong CFO could manage VMH without a CEO. Decker advised that the hospital needs a plan with different management making different decisions. Ellingson indicated that the council needs to look at neighboring communities with hospitals and their funding and revenue options.

Following discussion, Hatlan motioned to move forward with the Resolution providing issuance of a revised Fiscal-Year 2019-2020 Anticipatory Warrant relating to the VMH General Fund. That Resolution would allow the City Manager to sign such documents, a scenario that was approved by the council with Decker voting against approval of the Resolution.

The special session regarding the Resolution approval adjourned and a new special session was scheduled to follow. Ellingson excused himself from the council chambers prior to the start of that second special session, indicating that he would have a conflict of interest relating to the city manager interview scheduled for the special session meeting which would convene shortly.

The second special session of the meeting was called to order with Police Chief Phil Young addressing the police officer residential location agenda item. Young indicated that the requirement for police officers to live within a ten-mile radius of Waukon has been a general policy but is not part of the employment contract. Young discussed that a candidate that will be recommended for hire currently resides in Decorah. The council agreed that the candidate’s residence in Decorah would not be an issue.

The council moved into the hiring of a police officer with Young introducing Darrek Elwood of Decorah. Elwood discussed his training and professional experience as an EMT and in law enforcement. Young provided a recommendation to hire Elwood at a pay rate of $22.17 per hour with a start date of July 23, which was approved by the council.

Darrek Elwood and Fallon Cassidy were then individually sworn in as Police Officers for the Waukon Police Department. Following that swearing in, the council moved into closed session to conduct an interview for the City Manager position.

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