By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Gov. John Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio this week that he removed an outspoken appointee who was questioning spending at Colorado’s health exchange because she wasn’t attending meetings in person.
He said that “despite repeated efforts,” Ellen Daehnick, a businesswoman whom Hickenlooper picked for the board 18 months ago, was calling in to board meetings instead of attending in person. (Click here to listen to Hickenlooper’s comments to CPR host Ryan Warner.)
Health News Colorado had twice asked the governor’s office for an explanation for Daehnick’s removal and obtained emails through a public records request. None of those documents or statements from Hickenlooper’s aides highlighted concerns about attendance. (Click here to read Governor boots vocal appointee from health exchange board.)
In fact, emails described some tap-dancing among aides as they discussed the reason they would cite for Daehnick’s removal.
Late on Thursday when Health News Colorado reached out to the governor’s office regarding Hickenlooper’s newest comments, his spokeswoman replied with an email saying, “there is nothing more about the issues we can talk about given that this is a personnel matter.”
Daehnick attended meetings in person during the first six months of her tenure, then often called in over the last year to attend them by phone.
Several other board members, including the governor’s deputy chief of staff and his cabinet members, have also joined the frequent exchange meetings by phone. At almost every board meeting, one or more board members joined by phone.
Daehnick said no one ever raised any concerns with her about attendance, so it’s unclear what Hickenlooper means by “repeated efforts.”
She suspects the governor is dodging the question.
“The facts don’t support what he said. A politician not telling the truth is not news. In Gov. Hickenlooper’s case, he has not only in a general way talked about how important transparency and accountability are in government, but also very specifically how committed he is to transparency at the health exchange,” Daehnick said.
The governor’s comments came as the health exchange released its numbers for the first month of new enrollments for 2015. So far, enrollments for new customers have been low — about 19,000 people with 89,000 renewals. Connect for Health Colorado is supposed to be financially self-sustaining by next year and future operating funds will have to come from fees on enrollees.
“Look,” Daehnick said. “It’s clear the governor and his team are embarrassed by this coverage of his removal of a vocal, critical member from the board. When they timed the removal after the elections during a holiday week and in advance of an unfavorable audit, I’m sure this flap isn’t what they expected. So now, too late, they’ve come up with an excuse they hope will stick.
“I’m sorry to tell you governor, but that dog won’t hunt.”
Daehnick knew she served at the governor’s pleasure, so he could remove her at any time for any reason. She said she’s just disappointed that he’s not being more forthright.
While she’s a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, Daehnick had been highly critical of spending at the exchange, including the former CEO’s request for a raise.
“What’s the real reason I was removed?” Daehnick speculated: “I wasn’t willing to do things like give unwarranted bonuses and pay raises to executive directors who were underperforming, so he pulled me from the board. He needs to step up and own that. Nobody’s fooled.”
She said she doesn’t want to be at the center of a story about problems at the exchange. She just wants more than a “half-baked reason” for her removal weeks after the fact.
“That doesn’t fly. It’s not OK. This is not why I voted for John Hickenlooper.”