Hospital loses bid to seal CEO’s pay _lowres

CEO Bill Davis of Slidell Memorial Hospital

A state district judge in Baton Rouge has rejected a bid by Slidell Memorial Hospital to keep CEO Bill Davis’ pay confidential, permitting the legislative auditor to disclose the $462,821 salary and benefits package as part of the hospital’s annual audit.

The hospital had sought to block the release, arguing that the information should be kept confidential to prevent private competitors from gaining a leg up by knowing what Davis is paid.

But 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark disagreed, and Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera issued the full, unredacted hospital audit Thursday.

Clark agreed with attorneys who argued that a new state law, Act 706, did not permit the hospital to shield Davis’ pay from public release. Clark first ruled in Purpera’s favor in August, but hospital attorneys had asked for a stay of judgment while they appealed. On Thursday, Clark denied the stay. The appeal will go forward.

In 2014, Davis earned $381,727 in salary, $16,341 in insurance benefits, $10,400 in retirement benefits and $54,353 in other benefits.

Hospital officials submitted that information to Purpera’s office in June as required, Board Chairman David Mannella said. But they asked that he not release the salary information. When he refused, Slidell Memorial sued.

“If our competitors know what Bill Davis is paid, that gives them a great advantage in recruitment,” Mannella said.

The hospital argued that an earlier state law, the Enhanced Ability to Compete act, allowed it to shield Davis’ compensation because of the competitive pressures faced by hospital service districts. Passed in 1984, the law gives those districts the right to keep “strategic” information confidential.

But once Act 706 was passed last year, many hospitals worried that information might no longer be protected, Mannella said.

During the hearing before Clark, attorneys were able to show that when the act was being considered in the Legislature, an exemption for hospital service districts was rejected.

SMH is governed by a nine-member commission, of which seven members are appointed by area legislators.

Purpera hailed the decision.

“Our job here at the Legislative Auditor’s Office is not only to collect the information,” he said, “but to make it available to the public who is paying to run these hospitals.”

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.