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Calexico hospital trustees hope to shave financier's fee

May 23, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Its attorney called the action "absurd," "embarrassing" and "humiliating," but the Heffernan Memorial Hospital District trustees voted 3-1 to try to knock off more than $30,000 of Robert Swerdling's fee.

Swerdling is a managing director of Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray, a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp. He approached the city's Special Financing Authority last year offering to refinance and restructure the district's more than $9 million in debt from a 1996 bond sale.

If his fee is reduced he will still make more than $100,000 when $11,368,500 worth of authority bonds are sold sometime in the next month.

The bonds will be sold to take advantage of lower interest rates and pay the $1.5 million in debt incurred by the district since 1997.

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Hospital board Chairwoman Norma Apodaca dissented and trustee Rosie Fernandez abstained from the vote. Apodaca said she thought Swerdling should be paid the fee he quoted.

At issue is the exact amount that Swerdling, personally, will make when the authority's 1996 $9.235 million bond issue is refinanced and restructured.

On May 7, Swerdling presented the board with a summary of the fees he would charge for the transaction.

At Tuesday's meeting, trustees Ray Falcon, Mark Perrone and David Ouzan negotiated with Swerdling and worked out an agreement that would pay him $30,000 under what he had quoted at the May 7 meeting.

The negotiation process that got those involved to that number included a threat of litigation from Swerdling.

"We're going to handle this in court," he said midway through the process.

The matter instead will be decided by the Calexico Special Financing Authority.

After the lower amount had been informally agreed to, the district's attorney, Eduardo Rivera, informed the board it had "no authority" to negotiate Swerdling's fees.

"All you can do is give direction to the two members of the authority to negotiate the deal," Rivera said.

The financing authority is made up of two members from the district board and two from the Calexico City Council.

Fernandez, Ouzan and councilmen Gilbert Grijalva and John Renison are the representatives on the authority.

It was created for the district and the city to partner and sell $9.235 million of municipal bonds in 1996. That money went to pay off debts incurred by the hospital district before 1997.

The 1996 issue and the upcoming 2001 issue are being paid off with money taken in by the half-cent sales tax for the hospital approved in 1992 by Calexico voters.

Rivera told the board even if it voted to give direction to Fernandez and Ouzan, the two trustees could vote their conscience.

Falcon and Ouzan took umbrage with Rivera's timing.

"Why didn't you tell us that at the beginning?" Ouzan asked.

Rivera informed Ouzan he was only commenting on the matter because Apodaca had requested his opinion.

"If you don't like my opinion," he gestured to Ouzan, "you can fire me."

Perrone told Rivera he appreciated the attorney's opinion.

"I don't think you do," Rivera said.

Earlier in the meeting the board voted unanimously to approve an agreement with City Treasurer Rudolfo Moreno.

That agreement is one of the documents that will allow the authority to refinance and restructure the 1996 bonds and sell the 2001 bonds.

Once the 2001 bond issue is paid off, the half-cent sales tax will end. Swerdling has said the tax could end as soon as 2007.

Now that the district has approved the agreement with Moreno, it will go before the City Council, possibly as early as next week.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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