A former police officers’ private investigation into the dealings surrounding the hospital sale has come to a screeching halt after he was barred from accessing records from a related agency.
Ex-Hoboken cop Ed Mecka filed a lawsuit in the Hudson County Superior Court last week against Hudson Healthcare, Inc., (HHI) after his request for access to the organization’s records was blocked.
According to the complaint, Mecka filed an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request to obtain materials from a July HHI Board of Directors meeting, including a list of attendees at the meeting, and a resolution passed by the board. Mecka’s request, however, was blocked by the HHI, who, according to the complaint, claimed that it was not a “public agency,” and therefore not subject to the Open Public Records Act.
“My attorney feels strongly that this is a pretty solid case.” – Ed Mecka.
The HHI was created in 2007 to operate the hospital and later played a large role in the city’s sale of the HUMC to Hudson Hospital Holdco, LLC. when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy paved way for the hospital to extinguish its debts, which was required before the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority (HMHA) – a municipal board – could transfer ownership to Holdco.
Joseph Maddaloni Jr., an attorney for the HHI, forwarded an email to The Reporter that was initially sent to Mecka and his attorney, Richard Gutman, explaining the HHI’s reasoning for denying the public access to the agency’s records.
“Your contention that the ‘City of Hoboken created HHI to manage [the HUMC] for the [HMHA]’ is incorrect,” said Maddaloni Jr. in the email, adding that neither the city nor the Municipal Authority created the HHI.
“Rather, HHI is a not-for-profit corporation formed under the laws of the State of New Jersey,” continued Maddaloni Jr.
Maddaloni Jr. also said that the HHI primarily operated on hospital revenue, and is a self-governing organization.
“HHI’s operating budget was supported in large part from the fees generated by the hospital for medical services provided,” added Maddaloni Jr., who continued to say that the HHI is not governed by the Municipal Hospital Authority or the city, and is instead governed by its own, independent, five-member Board of Directors.
Mecka said that a New Jersey Supreme Court case decision set the precedence after the HHI established the New Jersey State League of Municipalities as a public agency.
“[The decision] said that the League of Municipalities should be subject to OPRA because it was created by a public entity,” said Mecka, “[and that] part of the criteria for OPRA is that it has to be a government record created by a government agency.”
“My attorney feels strongly that this is a pretty solid case,” added Mecka.
Digging for controversy
Mecka said that he began investigating the sale of the hospital after knowledgeable sources told The Reporter last August that representatives from the HHI did not wish to declare bankruptcy, but received pressure from the HMHA to do so in order to expedite the sale of the hospital.
To add fuel to the fire, Donald Scarinci, the general counsel for the HUMC from 2009 to July 16, 2011, resigned because he alleged that the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority engineered a bankruptcy of the hospital, reports indicated last September.
At the time, a spokesperson for the HMHA denied the claim as “unfounded and false.”
In addition, several members of the HHI board resigned shortly before the bankruptcy filing. Each resignee was replaced with a new member, including James Doyle and Linda Barrientos.
Doyle was appointed by Gov. Christopher Christie, who was allowed to make one statewide appointment to the board. Doyle is a supporter of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and has donated to her campaign in the past, according to campaign records. Mecka feels the appointment was made with political motivations to assist the sale.
Mecka charged that Zimmer sent an email to Christie, requesting the appointment of Doyle. He also is charging that Doyle subsequently appointed Board attorney Frank Magaletta, and board member Erin Byron, who has supported Zimmer in the past.
Mecka forwarded an email he apparently obtained in an OPRA request to The Reporter which was sent from an employee of the mayor’s office. The June 23 email is addressed to Matt Mowers, the governor’s Regional Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Doyle’s resume is included in the email. His appointment was announced by Christie’s office six days later.
Mecka is now searching for the records of the July 15 HHI meeting which appointed the new board members as well as the attorney.
“The problem I have with the [the new appointments] is that it is sort of unethical,” said Mecka. “You had the city of Hoboken take over [the board] forcibly.”
Zimmer said that she was proud of the efforts to sale the hospital, adding that Mecka’s lawsuit was “politically motivated.”
“Saving our hospital was a tremendous undertaking that took years to accomplish what most thought was impossible,” said Zimmer. “I am extremely proud of all the professionals, volunteers, and community members who worked so hard and rallied together to save our hospital from closing, save more than 1,200 jobs, and relieve taxpayers from tens of millions of dollars in crippling debt.”
“This success was achieved despite the politically motivated efforts to undermine it,” added Zimmer, “and it is unfortunate that those efforts are continuing with this [Mecka’s] lawsuit.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.