Circuit Juge Alice Gray
has ruled that Arkansas Children's Hospital
is subject to the state Freedom of Information Act
because the privately incorporated nonprofit
institution benefits from a Pulaski County property tax.
She adopts the simple argument I"ve made since Pulaski County voters approved a half-mill property tax in 1978 to support maintenance and operations of the hospital.
Past court decisions have consistently held that public money given to private entities can subject those entities to the FOI. Though Children's Hospital has designated since 2001 that the property tax be
paid to the state to use to obtain federal matching Medicaid dollars, she said the hospital retains control of the money.
She said she'd considered Children's arguments on the flow of money to the start. "As far as the FOIA is concerned the result is the same. The funds, in the form of a tax, are still collected by Pulaski County for the maintenance, operation
and support of defendant
. The collected tax revenue never belongs to any entity except the defendants." The tax produces more than $3 million a year.
The suit was filed by Ruby Nichols. Judge Gray ruled that, based on her ruling, Children's should "immediately comply" with her request for a copy of her personnel records.
Nichols complaint said she was fired after she complained about sexual discrimination on the job and inappropriate sexual conduct in the work environment. She contends her firing was retaliation and the hospital refused to provide personnel
records she'd requested afterward.
I'm seeking a comment from Children's, which has long resisted efforts to open its records to the public. Though it is a private nonprofit, a vast amount of its revenue comes from the publicly financed Medicaid program.