By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
When Clarence V. McKee quit his commissioner’s seat on the governing board of Broward Health in January, records show he urged his colleagues to keep an eye on consulting contracts doled out by the tax supported public health care system.
But less than a month later and without any public discussion by his former colleagues, McKee upgraded his unpaid position to a lobbying contract worth $65,000 courtesy of Broward Health Chief Executive Frank Nask, whose performance the board oversees.
McKee’s one-year contract with the North Broward Hospital District, Broward Health’s legal name, commenced March 1 – 29 days after he informed the board he was resigning.
Broward Health’s board never approved McKee’s 13-page contract to lobby in Tallahassee on the district’s behalf. They didn’t have to. Previously, Nask had been given the authority to sign contracts of up to $250,000.
McKee is the only former district board member to be employed as a lobbyist “during the time I have worked with Broward Health,” according to Charlotte Mather-Taylor-Taylor, a Broward Health executive in charge of government affairs and public relations. She has worked for Broward Health since June 1995, according to her resume on Linked In.
Mather-Taylor and McKee both said the idea of Broward Health employing McKee came up after his resignation and because of his experience and familiarity with the issues.
“I was approached by the administration, Charlotte and Frank, to be on the lobby team,” said McKee, whose reputation while on the board was something of a maverick. “I’m paranoid as hell and if I’d been approached before I left that board, or if somebody had suggested it, I wouldn’t have done it because given my voting pattern someone would have said I’d been bought off.”
FLORIDA’S ‘REVOLVING DOOR’ LAW
Florida’s narrowly drawn “revolving door” law prohibits legislators, elected officials and appointees from returning to lobby their government body for two years after leaving office. It does not speak to a situation like McKee’s.
“What this shows is that there are a lot of different issues that are not addressed in the statutes and rules, and in those situations everyone is supposed to use common sense and do what’s in the public interest and should avoid any appearance of impropriety. That isn’t what happened in this instance,” said Nova Southeastern University legal ethics professor Robert Jarvis.
Parkland-based McKee became the 11th member of the district’s formidable team of registered lobbyists. Senate records identify them as Ron Book, Jorge Chamizo, Charles Dudley, David and Candice Ericks, Jim Scott, Jason Unger, Brian Ballard and William Turbeville and Mather-Taylor. Nevertheless, Mather-Taylor said Ballard and Turbeville “were not on contract with us in 2013.”
McKee, a conservative Republican appointed to Broward Health’s board by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010, also lobbies in Tallahassee for the Broward School Board. During the legislative session he operated under a one-year, $40,000-a-year contract. On Dec. 3, he signed a new, seven-month deal for $23,331.
What did McKee do for the money?
McKee told the School Board he focused on two issues in Tallahassee: securing legislation to obtain recurring funding for the board’s Broward Education Communications Network, or BECON, and passage of a bill that would let boards install cameras on school buses to help police identify drivers who fail to stop when a bus is displaying a stop signal. Neither became law.
In memos and email sent to Broward Health, and made public under the state’s Public Records Act, McKee described contacts with an aide to the governor and nearly a dozen South Florida state senators and representatives mostly during the session regarding issues involving Medicaid expansion and reimbursement, and the regulation of trauma centers.
“In all of the above, either directly in person or through staff, by phone or email, the Broward Health position was emphasized,” McKee said in a four-page report about his lobbying activities written days after the Legislature adjourned May 3.
LOBBYING ROLE NOT DISCLOSED
But McKee did other things, too.
He authored opinion articles for both the Sun-Sentinel and West Palm Beach-based Newsmax that pushed Broward Health’s agenda and buttered up allied legislators without disclosing to readers that he is a paid Broward Health lobbyist.
McKee reported back to his employers at Broward Health about the columns he’d written.
Here’s what McKee told Nask and Mather-Taylor about a March 27 article that ran in his Newsmax column, “The Silent Minority.” It was about a proposal by State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, touted as an alternative to Medicaid expansion.
“Here is my article on Negron and the bill. My editors gave it a great headline “Dignified Alternative” and hopefully it can get legs and give House GOP an ‘out’ and ‘cover’ to support it or similar…Was done in such a way as NOT to anger any GOP or Dems…need all of their votes,” McKee wrote the day after the article appeared in an email released to BrowardBulldog.org.
The Newsmax article identifies McKee as “president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political and media relations consulting firm in Florida” and said he who once worked for President Reagan. A separate on-site biography erroneously stated that he was then a commissioner on the North Broward Hospital District.
The Sun-Sentinel article was written on June 22, more than a month after the legislative session had ended. In it, McKee strokes Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood “for keeping the debate of expanding health-care alive and well” by staging a “Town Hall on Healthcare” public meeting.
Two months earlier, McKee had lobbied Sobel and others to support Negron’s alternative health care plan, which he reported to Nask and Mather-Taylor they did. The bill passed the Senate, but not the House.
“It was particularly important that Eleanor Sobel, who had been vice chair of the Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and was also a member of the Appropriations Committee, agreed to the Negron plan,” McKee wrote in his lobbying activity report.
The Sun-Sentinel article identifies McKee only as “president and CEO (of) McKee Communications Inc. and a former commissioner of Broward Health.
In an interview on Tuesday, McKee said he should have identified himself as a paid lobbyist in those articles.
“I’d never thought about it,” he said.
In addition to informing Nask and Mather-Taylor about his Sun-Sentinel piece, McKee also reported to them on the activities of John DeGroot, a former Sun-Sentinel reporter and columnist and outspoken critic of Broward Health and other local healthcare systems. DeGroot’s blog is http://john-degroot.com/
In a July 1 memo recounting Sobel’s standing room only Town Hall meeting, McKee reported that after passing out “literature on inequality of hospital care for minorities/ethnic groups” and criticizing Sobel, DeGroot and Sobel got into a “heated shouting match.”
“He, because of his tactics and demeanor, of course, was discounted by the audience,” McKee opined.