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Legislator says authority acted illegally
ST. MARYS - State Rep. Jason Spencer says he has received a response from the state Attorney General's office that indicates the St. Marys Hospital Authority "acted unlawfully" with the way it spent proceeds from the sale of a city-owned convalescent center in 2006.

Spencer, R-Woodbine, says he was concerned authority members were spending the money, now estimated at $3.6 million, to support senior citizen programs instead of indigent health care. Based on the response to his questions, Spencer says he believes the authority violated state law three ways.

He says the authority spent the funds for the senior center, changed its bylaws so its only responsibility was to provide services to senior citizens instead of health care and failed to conduct audits required by law.

"I also believe the hospital authority's reaction to the investigation of these matters by my brother, Jeremy Spencer, and me violates the Georgia Open Records and Open Meetings Acts," he said.

Some hospital authority members, including its lawyer Jim Stein, say Spencer never showed any interest in the hospital authority until his brother was denied a seat as an authority member.

State Rep. Spencer says he plans to attend a special meeting of the authority at 6:30 p.m. today at the Ward L. Hernandez Building, 400 Osborne St., St. Marys, to discuss his concerns.

Stein said he and other authority members have asked Spencer repeatedly to meet face-to-face to discuss the issue. Stein maintains authority members did nothing illegal and that they had permission from the state to spend the money to support senior programs.

"He chose to keep us out of the loop," Stein said. "We have to handle this in an open meeting. This has been a thorn in the flesh for authority members."

Despite repeated invitations to discuss his concerns in person, Spencer says he has not been able to meet with authority members because of conflicts with his schedule. He also wanted to wait until the Attorney General's office responded to his questions about how the proceeds from the sale of a city-owned convalescent center have been spent.

The convalescent center was purchased by Southeast Georgia Health System in 2006 for $1.1 million. Since then, authority members invested the proceeds from the sale, and the hospital authority's bank account now has an estimated $3.6 million, thanks to profitable investments. The authority purchased an old bank building for more than $225,000 as a new senior center and spent about $80,000 a year to support senior programs, including $25,000 for meals.

Stein expressed bewilderment over Spencer's interest in the authority's spending, saying it's a local issue, not one with the state. "It's shameful," he said. "It really doesn't solve anything."

Stein also said Spencer's interpretation of the state's response to his questions did not resolve the issue.

"It's just a statement in facts," he said. "The state has yet to request an audit from us."

Stein said it is unlikely the authority will take action after Spencer's presentation today. "We can't act on this when we haven't even had a meeting to discuss this," he said.

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswick, on Facebook or at 464-7655.

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