Governor Reeves remains silent on health care meeting, claims no document exists

As the crisis in the state’s hospitals continues, Gov. Tate Reeves has held a meeting on health care, but his office declined to disclose its content.

His staff also claimed that there was no formal documentation of those meetings, although internal correspondence suggested otherwise and despite the detailed health policy changes Reeves proposed.

Several experts, including former governors, said the lack of meeting documents and lack of details on Reeves’ calendar was unusual. One national expert called it “bad practice.”

Mississippi Today found through a records request on the governor’s calendar that Reeves appeared to have attended meetings at the governor’s mansion from May to August on topics ranging from Medicaid policy, health care industry issues and health care policy.

During this period, Mississippi’s health industry experienced significant upheaval. State Medicaid departments have disqualified thousands of beneficiaries, and hospitals are struggling. One hospital closed and several others closed departments and filed for bed closures due to financial difficulties.

Amid the upheaval, it’s unclear exactly what happened at those meetings or who attended. Reeves’ calendar only shows the time, date and location of most meetings, and if his calendar lists meeting topics, it usually doesn’t list the people he met with. His spokesman, Shelby Wilcher, did not respond to multiple emails seeking details about who attended the health care meetings and the topics covered.

When Mississippi Today asked for official documentation from the meeting, Reeves’ office claimed that no notes or documents were used or produced at the meeting, aside from a few email threads about scheduling.

An email generated by the request shows the governor wants a briefing document that includes information about meeting attendees and topics to be discussed before all meetings.

Reeves dispatcher Barry Nelson said in a tip that for all meetings with him, a briefing document is required beforehand. Can you give me some information so I can make sure we’re okay?

However, when Mississippi Today subsequently requested briefing documents from those meetings on health care, Reeves’ office claimed those documents also did not exist.

State Public Records Law defines public records Records are documents used in “the conduct, dealings or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty or function of any public body”. This means that if these briefing documents existed, they would theoretically be considered public records.

John Pelissero, director of government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, was puzzled by the discrepancy in the briefing document.

“It’s striking because you have emails showing that they needed to provide documents in order to meet with the governor,” he said. Even if they’re not hiding, even if they’re trying to be transparent, they don’t look transparent. When you create a sense that something is wrong, you create an ethical problem for yourself because the governor’s office is eroding the public’s trust.

He went on to say that this strategy was directly contrary to the interests of the governor and that the public must know whether any public matters were discussed at these meetings or whether decisions were made at the meetings that would affect people.

Pelissero said that as governor, you are generally more effective if you are transparent. The public that elects that person to be governor expects that the governor will act on the goals for which the governor ran as a candidate, so it’s your constituents’ responsibility to prove to them that you are, in fact, committed to those things for which you ran.

According to Ronnie Musgrove, who served as governor from 2000 to 2004, his calendar shows more details. In most cases, it includes the people Musgrove met and an overview of the meeting’s topics.

He said slides and paper documents were common at most meetings when Musgrove was governor, and copies of those documents were provided to his office.

“Of course, I can’t say what the reasons are for not providing the information, but if the information exists, of course it should be provided,” he said. Maybe (Reeves) thought showing his hand early might create some difficult discussions, but anything in healthcare creates a lot of discussion.

Musgrove acknowledged that at times he was tight-lipped about certain projects, but only if the details would be damaging if released, he said.

He said governor is an elected position and is paid for by taxpayers. I believe the people have a right to know what potential policies are and some of their details, especially before they go into effect.

Former Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who served from 2012 to 2020, declined to be interviewed.

Tom Hood, executive director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission, said the commission is very limited in its ability to investigate public records matters. He said the committee can take a decision only after a record complaint is filed.

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