Ten Days Before Its CEO’s Contract Expires, Dallas’ Largest Provider of Mental Health Services Is Silent

Ten days before the contract of its chief executive officer is set to run out, Dallas-based Metrocare Services is staying mum on the topic of its leadership future.

The government agency—which has a budget north of $100 million and a board appointed by Dallas County Commissioners—has not answered repeated inquiries about the CEO process or about financial issues at the agency. It’s a spell of silence that dates back more than three months.

In the most recent instance showcasing the lack of transparency that government agencies are expected to offer, Metrocare denied a records request seeking “minutes”—the play-by-play—from its most recent board meeting, despite a legal obligation to give them up.

Requests for comment for this story were put out to Metrocare spokesperson Charlene Stark, CEO John Burruss, and Board President Terry James, to no avail. Requests to several other board members over the last three months have also gone unanswered.

In February, I wrote about financial issues dogging Metrocare, which is the largest provider of mental health services in Dallas County, serving more than 57,000 adults and children yearly. At one point during 2017, it couldn’t pay vendors and therefore couldn’t stock its pharmacies. Under Burruss’ tenure, what once were healthy cash reserves have dipped well into the negative. Here’s the original story. Since then, 2018 revenue originally forecasted at $126 million has been adjusted downward to $115 million.

I was passed a note in early May in which Burruss notified his organization of 40 layoffs (a source told me it was more like 60) as well as the closure of a clinic. He also froze executive, administrative, and management salaries.

During reporting for the February story, Stark and previous board president Jill Martinez denied that an Ad Hoc CEO Evaluation Committee was giving thought to recommending letting Burruss go. His contract was due to expire in late April. It was instead extended on a short-term basis through June 30, an open-records request later revealed.

The CEO evaluation committee met nine times between Feb. 22 and May 3. It has not met since then, according to Metrocare’s website. It is conceivable that a decision on Burruss was made at the most recent Metrocare Board meeting, which took place on May 24. But I was unable to attend due to prior obligations, and the agency denied my records request seeking minutes, saying they’ll be available only after they’re approved at the next board meeting.

The Texas Public Information Act, however, gives agencies no such slack to deny on that basis; when I called the Texas Attorney General’s open-records hotline this morning, an official there confirmed that point. The Texas AG also ruled on this matter in response to a 2011 appeal, determining that the “minutes of a public meeting of a governmental body are public records when entered, are public in whatever form they exist, and public access may not be delayed until formal approval is obtained.”

I informed Metrocare of those points and have yet to hear back. I will be sure to update here or post a new story if and when I do.

Metrocare’s next board meeting should fall on Thursday, June 28. An agenda has not yet been posted.

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Know something about Metrocare? Help us report on a behavioral health agency that touches tens of thousands of North Texans: shawn.shinneman@dmagazine.com.