The Undercurrent: Anti-Tax Brigade clouds message with lack of transparency

Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones

Issues of importance deserve healthy debate – especially for a significant subject such as local health care and who should pay for it.

The May 11 election to vote for or against a hospital district in Somervell County certainly qualifies as one of those important issues. At stake is whether or not the local hospital should be supported through a new taxing entity.

The devaluation of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, which has long been the county’s property tax cash cow, makes that debate even more critical. Clearly, the county and its taxpayers need to prioritize what they will and will not pay for, especially for those services that continue to lose money. Glen Rose Medical Center, Squaw Valley Golf Course and the county Expo Center and Texas Ampitheatre all operate in the red.

Members of the Somervell County Hospital District Political Action Committee  have been writing letters to local media and speaking to civic organizations. The identities of the people who are behind the PAC, which was formed to gather signatures for a petition to hold an election on a hospital district, are public. The Glen Rose Current recently published the petition and the names of those who signed it. We’ll do so here again so readers can see who signed the petition in case they missed our earlier posting.  2013 Hospital District Petition

The opposition that calls itself the Somervell County Anti-Tax Brigade also has embarked on a marketing campaign, taking out ads each week in a local newspaper to make its case that a hospital district is not the right answer to the problems that plague Glen Rose Medical Center, which the county has been supporting.

That’s all well and good, except for one thing – the Anti-Tax Brigade clamors for transparency from the current and future board overseeing the hospital’s operations, but it refuses to be transparent itself. When I called the number listed in the ad, the person answering the phone agreed to speak with me only if I did not disclose the person’s identity.

I agreed, which I now regret. I thought I could change the person’s mind about remaining anonymous. I could not. The reason given for the secrecy was that the “brigade” was a grassroots effort, with the ads being paid for by individuals, and the group did not want to be defined by personalities. I had a long conversation with the brigade member, which I recorded digitally — and openly – on my iPad.

A few days later, the brigade ran another ad, this time listing its treasurer as Wayne Widner. Several days later I received some phone calls from hospital district supporters asking if I knew who Wayne Widner was. I did not.

Meanwhile, the Current ran a transcript of an interview with Ray Reynolds, chief executive officer of Glen Rose Medical Center. In fairness to the opposition, I wanted to run the transcript of my interview with the person representing the Anti-Tax Brigade. So I phoned the person and said I could not run an interview transcript with “anonymous.” This person then told me I could attribute the interview to Wayne Widner.

The trouble is, I did not interview Widner. I have not met him or spoken to him. To say I interviewed him would be unethical and a gross misrepresentation.

The Society of Professional Journalists maintains a voluntary Code of Ethics that says, among other things, that responsible journalists should “identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.”

The fact that the Anti-Tax Brigade does not want to give the public the information about who supports its effort raises questions. A big one is why are they not willing to be transparent when they claim to advocate for transparency? They want to influence an election and yet are not willing to reveal themselves?

I personally have gone back and forth in my mind about whether a hospital district makes the most sense to solve the medical center’s financial problems. A separate taxing entity would remove the county government’s financial responsibility – and commissioners are going to have their hands full trying to fund other services in the next budget year as Comanche Peak’s valuation slides. It also would give the hospital board more direct local control and oversight. But taxpayers in this county are hurting in an economy where people are expected to do more with less and money remains tight. How much more financial burden can they or will they carry?

Nor is a hospital district going to change the dynamics going on with rural hospitals in general. GRMC will not have the economies of scale of larger hospitals and the uninsured and underinsured will continue to hammer its bottom line. If I were a Somervell County voter – and I’m not because I live just across the county line in Bosque County – I would be “on the fence.”

Clearly, the Anti-Tax Brigade doesn’t represent all of those who oppose a hospital district. But it has done a disservice to them, too, by not being transparent and open. Secrecy does not work well in a democracy. It is a cancer that spreads and undermines voter trust.

All of those who support a hospital district and all of those who oppose it need to commit themselves to ensuring transparency throughout the process. Otherwise, the healthy debate and exchange of information that needs to take place before the election won’t take place. The real losers would not be the PAC or the opposition, but the voters.

Kathryn Jones is editor of the Glen Rose Current. 

5 Responses to The Undercurrent: Anti-Tax Brigade clouds message with lack of transparency

  1. Joan Echols Taylor Reply

    May 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Kathryn, thank you for your unbiased support to the citizens of Glen Rose and Somervell County regarding the establishment of the PAC for a Hospital District and for the future of our medical facility. But I would plead with our citizens to support the Hospital District effort. The PAC worked hard in keeping the issue before the public and in presenting the facts of how a district could be of great benefit to our citizens. The open meetings were held, all guidelines of the State and Federal Governments were met, and all efforts to inform everyone of the meetings was fully supplied.

    Without the support of the community the medical benefits we have today will simply disappear. We will still be obligated to pay the bond debt which was generated by our citizens vote just a very few years ago. This debt will be paid whether or not! It makes sense to me to have a hospital and doctors nearby that I can use rather than a bill I have to pay and an empty building. Taxes will have to be met by a raise in our current tax regardless. Somervell County has been blessed to be among the lowest taxing counties in our Great State of Texas. We are fortunate to have been supplied with tax revenue from Comanche Peak and it has always been common knowledge that this would be reduced by devaluation at some point. It has also been known that eventually we would have to pick up some slack by raising our taxes. I have found nothing to substantiate a planned effort was made to save us from this day that we are now facing.

    But I do realize that what we would lose with a demise of our health facility will never be recovered and that we will not only lose residents because of lack of employment we will not attract new residents to our area. It will kill our efforts to become a Certified Retirement Community which would attract new monies and new jobs locally plus other benefits to each of our families. This hospital has served me and my families since it’s doors first opened with Dr. Hanna. It is important to keep our hospital open and our family doctors intact.

    We are also fortunate to have a facility that is sought out by not only us locals, but we are of service to the surrounding cities and communities. Monies to support our hospital also comes from their pockets to our hospital. Our neighbors are also quick to voice their support and gratitude to Somervell County and our medical facility. This adds to what keeps our facility growing. Lets work together to become all we can be.

    Please attend the meetings of the Hospital District Board and find out for yourselves what avenues need to be addressed and how we each can do our part in the action. The State of Texas and the Federal Government supply the guidelines and we must be diligent in having a board that is knowledgeable of these guidelines. Depending on the voices of our neighbors to take care of our business is pointless. Be there and be aware!

  2. Suzanne Gentling Reply

    April 24, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you, Kathryn, for pointing out how essential it is that voters use their intelligence and common sense when researching how to vote rather than basing their decision on the inevitable, small town gossip and innuendo. There is nothing easy about the vote on this issue.

    I want to support GRMC and I believe that taxpayer support of this entity should be a priority in our community. However, I also believe that the ‘for-profit’ health care system, as it currently exists in our country, is inappropriate for a service that virtually every citizen will need at some point. Our health care and how it is paid for should not be tied to returns for investors in the health insurance/health care industry.

    I do believe that this will eventually change here in America, but we are not there yet.

    GRMC, unfortunately, as well as the voters, are caught in the cross-hairs.

    • Kathryn Reply

      April 25, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Thank you, Suzanne. We will no longer agree to protect the identities of people who have no legitimate reason to request anonymity.

  3. Gary Whittle Reply

    April 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Well said, Kathryn. I certainly respect your integrity on the transparency issue. This should really make public think about the issue at hand and vote their own mind.

    Thank you for continuing a “job well done”.

    Gary Whittle

    • Kathryn Reply

      April 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Thank you, Gary. There are really very few circumstances in which a journalist should allow a source to remain anonymous and I made the mistake of agreeing to do that. But I won’t make the same mistake again. Rape victims, abused children, people from other countries who fear for their lives for criticizing their governments and someone who fears retaliation from a hate group for speaking out about a hate crime are examples that justify protecting identities. But these folks in question do not fit in any of those categories. That raises questions about motives and whether there are parties involved that the group doesn’t want known. Transparency is difficult sometimes, but it’s always the best policy.

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