According to Democratic strategist Jere Nash, there are two kinds of embarrassment Mississippi public officials can endure – the public kind and the kind that comes from their peer and social groups.
CLICK to see related story: Delta Health Alliance CEO under investigation for possible misuse of funds
Nash made that clear in a May 2009 e-mail to Delta Council executive vice president Chip Morgan. In the email, which was included in the court file of James Hahn’s lawsuit against the Delta Health Alliance, Nash discusses ways to bring some combination of public and social embarrassment to former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat.
“Each can be an effective motivator,” Nash writes. “As for the public kind, it seems there are three venues: (1) the press; (2) the Legislature; and (3) the College Board. The typical free media is pretty weak in Mississippi (as you know), but that doesn’t mean that a juicy story about UMC losing millions of federal dollars because of bureaucratic bumbling wouldn’t entice even the laziest reporter.”
Nash continues in his email: “But in today’s world, there are also blogs, radio talk shows, email blasts, university chat rooms, anonymous mailings, etc. All of which can be put to good use to make a point. And most of these venues feed on themselves; calling one editor to quash a story, like RK could have done in the old days, can’t happen today. Once the story gets on the web, it is like a growing organism. I know this from other work – UMC has a less-than-stellar in-house PR/communications operation. They are very weak, and would have no clue about how to counter this kind of frontal assault. They know virtually nothing about message development and message delivery.”
Hahn’s lawsuit arose from his firing from the DHA after he alleged CEO Karen Fox had misappropriated agency funds. The lawsuit ultimately settled last May, with settlement terms confidential. Fox is now under federal investigation for possible misuse of DHA funds, which come from federal sources. Her attorney, Mike Watts of Oxford, told the Mississippi Business Journal he’s confident Fox will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
During a phone interview with the MBJ, Nash was asked why Delta Council, an economic development organization, might want to discredit Khayat. “You’d have to ask Chip about that,” Nash answered, referring to Morgan.
Morgan said there was no effort to embarrass Khayat. “I just told (Jere) that we were trying to work through some problems at UMC about the electronic health records systems,” Morgan said. “We had contracts and there were things that weren’t going right for them and they were wanting to change the contracts, things that obviously Jere didn’t have any involvement in and didn’t know much about. I just asked him if he had any ideas about how to dislodge it. Of course, he then wrote the email.”
“Nothing in the email were the kinds of things that could help us solve the problem,” Morgan continued. “I’m not aware of any of the things mentioned ever happening. I know they didn’t happen as a result of that email. I can’t imagine Robert would even know all that was going on. He had a stellar record of 15 years or more up there. He accomplished many good things. We had no reason to want to do anything to reflect poorly on him.”
Nash said in the phone interview that the email was responding to a request from Morgan for information about how to “accomplish some goals he wanted to accomplish.”
“He wanted some sort of a campaign perspective,” Nash said. “He asked me for some general advice or options or considerations. That email was a result of that, and as far as I know, it went to him, and that was it.”
Asked if one of Morgan’s goals was discrediting Khayat, Nash said, “I have virtually no memory of the events leading up to (the email being sent). So far as I know, nothing ever happened to it. I think it was just a late-night idea that (Morgan) had. He got it and moved on and never used it for any purpose whatsoever.”
Nash said that the Delta Council did not hire him to advise Morgan. The Stoneville-based Delta Health Alliance, which provides healthcare for the poor in the Mississippi Delta, did put him under contract, he said, for $750 per day.
“I was hired to help with some organizational issues and some communications issues,” Nash said. “About the time they hired me, they had received a lot of extra money and were going to be able to spend money on a lot of extra programs. The staff and the management of those programs was going to grow exponentially, so they wanted some help in creating an internal organization to manage that kind of growth. That was the chief purpose they originally hired me for. Then out of that I began to do some communications issues just to help them communicate with their partners and communicate with the general public about issues they wanted to advance a general understanding about.”
Nash remains under contract with DHA, he said, for the same purpose. The amount of work Nash performs for DHA varies, with the average coming to four to five days per month. “It just depends on what their needs are,” he said.
Nash said he was aware that Fox was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Mississippi’s Northern District.
“It’s fair to say that there are a lot of things we do over the course of a career that we don’t ever want to become public,” he said of the e-mail to Morgan. “I think it’s fair to say that if you’re going to use e-mail you might as well acknowledge the fact that at some time and some point, there’s a possibility it will be made public. That’s the danger of e-mail. Chip is a friend of mine. He asked me for some advice. I wrote him an e-mail and that was it. He never followed up with me.
“It’s unfortunate that these kinds of things happened, in terms of this lawsuit. It’s just got to play itself out.”
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