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BOC helps hospital, cuts jobs, creates others

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has come together to try to save Southern Regional Medical Center (SRMC) from financial peril.

At a Tuesday night session, the board also voted to cut several, key, county-government positions, and created a new committee to oversee the county's finances.

After adding several new conditions to its SRMC agreement, the board voted unanimously to help the hospital refinance its $40.2 million bond.

In addition to requiring the hospital to put aside 10 percent of the $40.2 million bond in a debt repayment fund, the BOC made the hospital increase its amount of cash-on-hand to $745,000 daily, and $5 million weekly. Also, the BOC voted to have two BOC-appointed seats on the hospital's board of directors.

"We're 100 percent in favor of what you did tonight," said Ron Dodson, chairman of the hospital's board of directors.

Eldrin Bell, BOC chairman, said he would continue to urge the hospital to convince SunTrust Bank, the loan provider, to reduce the bond's current 12 percent variable interest rate.

"The changes take us an enormously long way from the citizens having to pay the debt of the hospital," said Bell. "The additional members to the [hospital] board was something I wanted from the beginning."

Commissioners Wole Ralph, Sonna Singleton, and newly-appointed commissioner, Gail Hambrick, voted 3-2 to appoint Ralph as one of its members on the hospital board. The other appointment is pending.

In other action, several changes were made to the structure of the Clayton County government.

Commissioners Ralph, Singleton, and Hambrick, voted to fire Ed Wall, the county's long-time investment banker. Wall had served as a bond underwriter for more than 20 years. Edmonson and Bell opposed the move. The decision reverses a formal approval of Wall's contract in October.

At the recommendation of Alex Cohilas, the county's newly appointed chief of staff, and its fire chief, the board cut several jobs, and created new ones. Cohilas said the changes were done as a way to "streamline government" and save the county around $456,000.

Board members eliminated the positions of the director of the risk management department, the executive assistant to the BOC, and the director of refuse control.

Three new positions were created, however: an executive legal assistant for the district attorney; a public information officer for the BOC, and a policy and planning staff position. Cohilas said the new positions will cost the county about $183,000.

Cohilas suggested eliminating the position of director of the Clayton County Economic Development Department, formerly held by Robin Roberts. She resigned on Friday. The board, however, decided to freeze the position. A fuel attendant position in fleet maintenance also was frozen.

In another move, Ralph, Singleton, and Hambrick voted 3-2 to create a new two-commissioner finance committee that will receive continuous updates from the finance director, and other department heads, about the financial status of the county.

Singleton then moved that Ralph and Hambrick be the two commissioners to serve on the committee. It was approved 3-2, with commissioners Edmondson and Bell opposed.

"I think that this steps outside of the authority of this board given by the state of Georgia," said Bell. He also called the decision to cut key positions in the county government "reckless."

"It's an irresponsible action that will not help the citizens at all [to] receive better services," he said.