Police Tackle Sen. Fort before Privatization Vote
Police Tackle State Sen. Fort, Others before Grady Privatization Vote
By Jonathan Springston , Senior Staff Writer, The Atlanta Progressive News (November 26, 2007)
This article contains additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, News Editor
(APN) ATLANTA – Atlanta Police officers physically wrangled with State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), former Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman, and two other activists, during a confrontation with protesters shortly before the 10-member Fulton-Dekalb Hospital Authority unanimously approved a resolution to privatize Grady Hospital.
Officers pushed Fort up against a wall and handcuffed him. They tackled Boazman to the ground and dragged him down a hallway. Boazman’s arm and wrist were hurt in the incident.
"We literally were in hand and hand combat. You had a female officer just grabbing my arm and snatching me and I told her that was not even necessary. People literally went berserk when they saw me in handcuffs and them taking me down some back hallway," Boazman told Atlanta Progressive News.
Boazman said he watched as a third activist, Fort’s niece-in-law, was attacked by one officer. As he was being tackled to the ground, he saw "them trying to put this... baton around this girl's neck, and I said take that baton from off her neck. I told her take her damn hands off the girl. And none of the officers were trying to restrain her. When I said that everyone just froze up," Boazman said.
A fourth person was escorted out by police, Fort said.
"They beat me down, cussed me down. It's a police state. What they were doing is using brute force to keep people from the meeting. It was a public meeting, and they were willing to use brute force. The question is, what did they have to hide?” Fort told Atlanta Progressive News.
"It's kind of a fascist move. I'm not surprised at what people will do to keep power. I'm not surprised of the evil men will do," Fort said.
The Hospital Authority’s resolution will, among other actions, create a nonprofit corporation to take over the Hospital, much to the dismay of hundreds of citizens present for the vote.
But even angry public denunciations and demonstrations could not stem the Chamber of Commerce’s push, which–with the support of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board, Emory University, and Morehouse Colleges–created the appearance of an inevitable tide towards privatization.
Yet Authority Members sought to deflect responsibility for their votes.
"In three weeks, our cash position would have been zero," Vice Chairman Christopher Edwards said. "You have to make the best decisions you can."
"It may not be the best resolution but this is the only thing that can keep the doors open," Member Thomas Dortch said. "Don’t blame us. If folks don’t put money on the table, it’s not going to happen. Don’t convict us."
The Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation would be a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation with a 17-member Board to govern Grady Memorial Hospital.
The Corporation will consist of at least four members from the current Authority. The Authority Chairperson will appoint the other members. It is unclear whom those other members will be or from what professions or circumstances they will come.
The Authority will still exist to retain ownership of the real estate and the Authority must give its consent "for any significant curtailment of the current major service lines or historic mission of Grady Hospital."
Creation of a nonprofit corporation comes with other special conditions. Members of the business, charitable, and philanthropic community must provide a written commitment to deliver at least $200 million in capital funds.
Unnamed members of the business community are said to have already promised to deliver $200 million to Grady upon the change to a 501(c)(3), as well as to engage in a fundraising campaign to raise an additional $100 million, which must also be confirmed in writing.
The Authority and Corporation must also prepare, execute, and deliver a lease agreement "in order to lease certain assets of the [Grady Health] System to the Corporation, which will assume certain liabilities of the System."
The resolution goes on to say, "The lease agreement would only be executed after completion of the statutorily required public hearings scheduled for Dec. 27, 2007, and no later than Dec. 31, 2007."
The business community would make a payment of no less than $50 million in cash or in escrow on or before the execution of the lease agreement. This would mark the first installment of a four-year payment plan for the $200 million.
The resolution urges the State of Georgia to enact legislation that would appropriate $30 million annually to Grady and to take measures to fund the Statewide Trauma Network.
Emory and Morehouse medical schools must provide written confirmation to the Authority of their commitment to continue training doctors at Grady, willingness to negotiate with the Authority to restructure all outstanding obligations owed by Grady, and willingness to renegotiate current contracts between the parties.
The Authority wants this confirmation no later than the execution and delivery of the lease agreement.
A DRAMATIC AFTERNOON
Several dozen protestors with the Grady Coalition, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and other groups rallied in front of Grady earlier in the day to denounce any move to create a nonprofit corporation.
When these protestors moved into the hospital with the intent of letting their voice be heard at the Authority meeting, security did not allow them in.
Grady security officers informed those gathered that the Authority was holding its Executive Session and that the public was not allowed in.
Protestors were forced to wait over an hour and a half in two separate corridors until 3:30 p.m., the scheduled start time.
When that time passed and protestors had still not gained access, tempers began to boil over.
Fort and Boazman apparently tried to barge into the Authority’s session and that’s when they were subsequently physically handled by security. Protestors howled their disapproval.
After prolonged shouting matches and more waiting, word came around 4 p.m. the meeting would be moved to the Steiner Auditorium across the street so that everyone could attend.
Forty-five minutes after the meeting should have started, Chairwoman Pam Stephenson brought the session to order.
Members dealt with other business before Lewis Horne, an attorney with the Troutman Sanders law firm, read the resolution.
When no member had anything to say, the Authority was ready to vote. The audience shouted in disgust and demanded the public be allowed to speak before the vote.
Just when it seemed a riot might break out, Stephenson finally allowed a comment period and for the next hour and a half, citizens peppered the Authority with harsh criticisms.
"We didn’t come this far to have Uncle Toms sell out the least of these," Boazman, who in addition to Fort was allowed back in for the hearing, said.
"The State of Georgia created this problem," Rev. Tim McDonald, of the First Iconium Baptist Church, said. "This is extortion. The Chamber of Commerce is guilty of extortion. You didn’t create this problem."
"Who are they?" Nancy Lenk, deputy director of AFSCME Local 1644, asked. "We don’t even know the names of the people we’re signing the hospital away to."
Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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