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For the week of April 25 through May 1, 2001

St. Luke’s drops MOB appeal

"Trust us" 

-St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center Attorney Michael Donovan

Express Staff Writer

After a month of private mediation sessions with county officials, representatives from St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center and Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth have agreed to drop their appeals surrounding the hospital’s plans to build a medical office building south of Ketchum.

Notes of the mediations produced by the parties’ lawyers state that St. Luke’s officials will reapply to the county planning and zoning commission with modified plans to build the controversial office building.

The P&Z denied initial plans for a 38,000-square-foot building last year. St. Luke’s appealed the denial to the county commissioners and Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth appealed a portion of the application the P&Z had approved.

A new application by St. Luke’s would require at least one additional public hearing before the P&Z.

On a two-to-zero vote Monday with Commissioner Sarah Michael absent, the board of commissioners agreed to conclude the mediation sessions and allow the appeals to be withdrawn. The board also agreed to deem any new application by St. Luke’s a "priority matter" and to consider adopting a county mediation ordinance.

County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said that even though an Idaho law passed in July already governs mediation, county ordinances need an equivalent to the law to be "consistent."

It is not yet known when St. Luke’s plans to reapply for a permit. Lawyers’ notes say that will happen at a "later date." St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center CEO Jon Moses was not available for comment.

The meeting Monday focused on the mediation process, rather than planning issues surrounding the office building.

Some members of the public, including Jay Coleman, an ex-P&Z commissioner, were concerned about elected officials’ having attended the closed-door mediation sessions when the officials may be called upon to vote on St. Luke’s future application. Coleman questioned whether unbiased consideration of St. Luke’s plans would be possible if the elected officials helped create the plans.

"I don’t know the extent of your input" during the mediation, Coleman told Commissioner Dennis Wright. "It could be argued you are at the same time both judge and jury."

Coleman "wondered" if Wright should recuse himself from considering a future application.

Wright said he wouldn’t.

Commissioner Mary Ann Mix said the "nature" of all mediation is to be closed to the public so that all involved feel free to discuss their thoughts.

Bob Werth, who facilitated the mediation, attempted to assuage concerns of impropriety.

"The attorneys [for St. Luke’s, Smart Growth and the county] were wonderful at working to protect the public," he said.

That protection appears to involve the 10 pages of notes the attorneys created after the four mediation sessions that lasted from two to eight hours each.

"By keeping this record," the first paragraph of the notes states, "the group intended to provide the public with information to allow for informed participation at future public meetings."

When asked how the public can determine whether the notes are complete and accurate, county attorney Thomas said, "You sort of have to rely on the integrity of people involved."

"Trust us," said St. Luke’s attorney Michael Donovan.


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