AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council agreed Monday to hire an attorney to determine what authority or control the council has over North Oaks Health Center in Hammond and Hood Memorial Hospital in Amite.
The move came at the suggestion of Councilman Nicky Muscarello, who objects to plans by North Oaks Health Center to open a limited retail pharmacy at the hospital. Local pharmacy owners contend a retail pharmacy at the hospital could seriously affect their businesses.
The council will retain the services of attorney Glen Galbraith, of the Hammond law firm Seale & Ross.
North Oaks Health Center has its origins in 1955, when voters of the parish’s 7th Ward approved a tax to establish Hospital Service District No. 1. With tax proceeds, what was then known as 7th Ward General Hospital was established. That institution evolved into today’s North Oaks.
The hospital has not received any tax money for more than two decades.
Hood Memorial was established through Hospital Service District No. 2, which serves the northern end of the parish.
The Parish Council appoints a board of directors for both institutions, but Muscarello said he wants to know what additional authority the Parish Council has in setting policies at the two hospitals.
“I wish I could fire the two top administrators at North Oaks, but I can’t, so maybe we should fire the board that we appointed,” Muscarello said.
He said North Oaks administrators have “thumbed their noses in our faces over this pharmacy business. … They had no intention of giving up on their pharmacy idea after they knew how this council felt about the matter.”
He also noted that if North Oaks opens a pharmacy, it will not have to pay sales or occupation taxes as do privately run pharmacies.
Council President David Vial pointed out that state regulations regarding hospital management have changed since Hospital Service District No. 1 was established almost 60 years ago. “We’ll let the attorney tell us what we can do and move on from there,” Vial said.
Also on Monday, the council, with split votes, decided against proposals for term limits, advancing only four of seven proposed changes to the parish charter.
One proposal that didn’t make the cut was one that, with voter approval, would have set three, four-year term limits for the parish president and council members. The measure died on a 5-5 vote. Voting against the proposition were Councilmen Ronnie Bankston, Bobby Cortez, Lionel Wells, Trent Forrest and Louis Joseph. Voting for the measure were Greg Varnado, Carlo Bruno, Harry Lavine, Muscarello and Vial.
The parish president and council members are not term-restricted at this time.
The council also is not advancing a change that would have mandated that the parish president hire an administrative assistant. They also rejected a companion proposition giving the administrative assistant authority to serve as parish president if the president is unable to fulfill his duties or is out of town.
Proposals advanced include allowing the parish president to have a line-item veto of each year’s proposed budget; requiring only 10 percent of registered voters, rather than the 20 percent now required, for petitions for an initiative or referendum; allowing the council to advertise its agendas and minutes in a media other than the official parish journal; and deleting voter approval for the consolidation or merger of special districts such as drainage, lighting or sewer districts.
A public hearing on those proposals is scheduled for the June 23 meeting.
Editor’s note: This story was modified on June 11, 2014, to correct the name of the law firm Glen Galbraith is affiliated with. The firm is Seale & Ross, Attorneys at Law, not Seale, Macaluso and Ross. Attorney Ron Macaluso, who was appointed by the council to the North Oaks Board of Directors last year, is no longer affiliated with the law firm. The Advocate regrets the error.