Wonderful piece in The Bay Citizen on researching local hospital district boards. The piece is by Jennifer Gollan and Katharine Mieszkowski. Read it carefully for good tips on the research methods used to tackle local oversight and governance board research. Here's our exegesis:
- Conflict of Interest statements matter -- Members of many local boards and commissions are required to file these forms. Often overlooked, they can help tie in family members or businesses to contracts approved by the local board of commission. An example from The Bay Citizen piece -- local bank CEO who sits on a hospital district board and reported owning stock in his bank's parent company worth upwards of $1 million while the local bank collected $1.2 million in fees from the hospital district. How did they find out -- the local bank CEO reported his stock ownership on his conflict of interest form.
- Relationships matter -- As illustrated in the example above, a key to this type of research method is knowing how the members of the board or commission you are studying relate to the vendors receiving contracts. Keep in mind that human nature applies -- people more readily do business with people they already know.
- Contracts and minutes matter -- Boards and commissions keep a written record of their meetings which will, at a minimum, record how members voted and what they voted on. Some will even produce a video or audio record. Expert tip: Capture the minutes (either by download or by scanning the paper copies) and run them through an optical character recognition software (like Adobe) and they become word searchable.
- Know the regulators -- Boards and commissions are remote islands of government but not completely islands unto themselves. In its piece, The Bay Citizen cited a California State Auditor report and noted that the hospital district boards it studied were also monitored (albeit loosely) by county-based entities known as Local Agency Formation Commissions. This is a California-only regulatory set-up but the point is the same -- check the set-up where you are doing the research because there should be some outside review of the local board apparatus.