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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hosp Authority

Lake Shore Hosp Auth: More Abbott and Costello, Who's on First? Now it’s Jack Berry's cell phone.

Jack Berry on cell phone
Jack Berry on cell phone calling the LCPD to have the Observer removed from a LSHA meeting.
2009 article & transcript

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Lake Shore Hospital Authority has been one of Columbia County’s best kept secrets for years. It is an independent taxing district, run by a governor appointed board, which is not answerable to the Columbia County residents and businesses that pay the taxes and the bills, one of which is the almost $100,000 a year that goes to former Republican Chieftain and Hospital Authority Manager, Jackson P. “Jack” Berry. Another is Mr. Berry’s cell phone and phone plan, which was supposed to have been approved by the governor appointed board. It wasn’t. Financial hocus-pocus is nothing new at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority.

On April 12, 2010, the Hospital Authority Board approved Jack Berry’s contract. Paragraph 10 of the board approved contract states the following:

10. CELLULAR TELEPHONE. The Authority shall provide Berry with a cellular telephone to be used in the course of his employment. The type [of] cellular telephone and telephone plan shall be as approved by the Board. Berry shall reimburse the Authority for any personal (non-Authority) use of the telephone within 30 days after receipt by the Authority of the monthly cellular telephone billing. (emphasis added; in law the word shall is equivalent to the word must).

On April 11, 2011, the Hospital Authority Board rewrote Mr. Berry’s contract, as he moved from a part-time to a purported full-time position. The contract awarded him a 66% pay increase and included the identical terms for cell phone purchase and reimbursement.

On April 12, 2013, in a public records request to the Authority, the Observer asked for:

1.  All records and documents wherein the "Board" approved Manager Berry's type [of] cellular telephone and telephone plan. (emphasis added)

2. All itemized monthly phone records for the LSHA provided cell phone of Manager Jack Berry showing his cellular phone usage and phone calls.

More LSHA
stories are here.

This did not look complicated.
At Jack Berry's Hospital Authority, it was.

In order to comply with the contract, someone had to audit Mr. Berry's phone bill and sign off, within 30 days of receipt, whether Mr. Berry did or did not make any personal phone calls from the phone, which was being paid for by the taxpayers.

On April 16, the Observer received an e-mail from Sue Fraze at the Authority which stated the following: Stewart, As you stated, the Chairman (at that time) Marc Vann verbally approved the type of cell phone and plan used. Mr. Berry has his personal cell phone to make personal calls. And, we do not have detailed billing in this office.

At this time, it is not clear if Mr. Berry put those words Ms. Fraze's mouth. It is clear that your reporter didn’t state anything that the “Chairman (at that time)” said or did.

The minutes of April 12, 2010, are silent on the issue of the Board’s approval of Mr. Berry’s cell phone and plan.

The only thing that was said at the meeting regarding the cell phone was the following by Mr. Vann, “Number 10. Be furnished a cell phone.”

In April of 2011, Mr. Berry’s contract was renegotiated and again there was not one word in the minutes mentioning Mr. Berry’s cell phone or the cell phone plan. Both the 2010 and 2011 contracts are identical regarding the Berry cell phone. During the 2011 Authority meeting when Mr. Berry’s contract was discussed, not one word regarding paragraph 10 of his contract, cell phone, was mentioned.

On April 23, 2013, your reporter asked for clarification of Ms. Fraze’s previous remark, As you stated, the Chairman (at that time) Marc Vann verbally approved the type of cell phone and plan used.

On April 24, 2013, the Hospital Authority responded in bright red:

 “As you (Mr. Stewart Lilker) stated” when referring to Mr. Berry’s contract, Par 10, the Board shall approve the type cellular phone & telephone plan.  Mr. Marc Vann, Chairman (at the time), verbally approved the purchase of the type of cellular phone & telephone plan, in accordance with the Procurement Policy in effect at that time.

Your reporter did not mention anything about the procurement policy, which was something new added by the Authority.

A glance at the policy, which the Authority describes, states the following, “These procedures cover all purchases of commodities and services from any Authority funds except the following: telephone ...

Even if the Procurement Policy authorized the purchase of the phone, which it doesn't, Mr. Berry's Board approved contract states unequivocally that the Board has to approve the phone type and the plan.

Epilogue

The remarks of the Authority regarding Hospital Authority Manager Berry's cell phone bills, "We do not have billing in this office" are par for the course at the Who's On First?  Lake Shore Hospital Authority. They don't have billing in any office.

Abbott and Costello would be proud. 

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