Friday, January 18, 2008

After Firing Dean, UCSF Stalls Release of Audit

We previously posted about the firing of Dr David Kessler as Dean of the University of California -San Francisco (UCSF) medical school, after he complained about financial irregularities at the school. UCSF top leadership had countered with their own claims that internal reviews and an independent audit of its finances found no serious problems.

The San Francisco Chronicle just reported that UCSF is stalling the release of the independent audit.

In response Tuesday to a Public Records Act request by The Chronicle, UCSF officials released information from two internal reviews, but declined to release the independent financial review or the name of the firm hired by the university for $165,000 to carry it out.

UCSF spokeswoman Corinna Kaarlela said the contract does not allow UCSF to release that information without permission of the firm, and the accounting firm has yet to grant it.

Citing similar objections from the accounting firm, UCSF also refused to provide a copy of the contract itself.

Given that UCSF is a public institution, the delay in producing this report created concern, if not outrage.

Reached Tuesday, Kessler said he wants the independent report released. It is essential,' he said.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored a new law to require the University of California to be more open to the public, said UC should release the documents immediately.

"They are the ones receiving the services," he said. "If they want to give out the audit, they can. They are the holder of it because they purchased it."

A number of consumer advocates and experts in public records law agreed.

"It is an absolutely outrageous, high-handed abuse of the public's right to know what is going on with its money," said John Simpson, of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. He said the public has a right to see the documents and know the terms of the contract.

Peter Scheer, a lawyer and executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition in San Francisco, said it is common for private consulting firms to require confidentiality to protect what they consider proprietary techniques or trade secrets. It often costs more, he said, to retain the services of a firm without that secrecy requirement. However, he contends that does not release a public agency from state public access laws.

"The mere fact that they have agreed to that isn't the end of the matter. It is possible that that promise is simply one that they cannot keep," Scheer said.

This case is far from resolved, but if nothing else, the latest developments demonstrate how opaque the management of many respected health care institutions has become. And the more efforts the leaders of health care organizations make to hide information, the more questions ought to be raised about why they want to hide it.

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