By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
Lance Clem can talk for hours about what's wrong with the way millions of dollars designed to help people infected with the AIDS virus are being spent in the Denver area. But talk like that, he says, cost him his job as the executive director of the Governor's AIDS Council.
In July, Dr. Patricia Nolan, director of the Colorado Department of Health, dismissed Clem from his post. The move, which came on the heels of the sudden transfer of the council from the governor's office to the health department, surprised not only Clem but also councilmembers and AIDS activists.
And Nolan dumped Clem despite bylaws the council had implemented following a similar purge that claimed his predecessor in 1990.
"She called me out of the blue and said, `With you being an enemy of the health department, there is no place for you...Consider this your thirty-day notice,'" says Clem. Clem is generally credited with securing federal AIDS funding for Colorado after the health department botched the first attempt in the spring of 1990. But his opponents, and even some of his friends, say Clem didn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Nolan, who is also a member of the AIDS council, says that because Clem wasn't yet working for her department, she technically didn't fire him. But she refuses to describe the role she did play in his removal from the position. "It's not appropriate for me to discuss Lance Clem's appointment or his issues," she says.
Nolan's reluctance to talk stems from a lawsuit that Clem, who was moved into the governor's office but told there would be no money to pay him after December, filed in January. In it he alleges that Nolan's action violated his constitutional rights of due process and free speech. Nolan and "unknown individual co-conspirators" on the council also have "commenced a scheme" to "ruin Mr. Clem's professional career," the suit claims. Clem is seeking unspecified monetary damages. He also wants to prevent Nolan from filling his old position.
Nolan didn't have the authority to fire him, Clem argues. And even if she had, he says, she dismissed him because he dared to question some expenditures of metro-area agencies that receive the lion's share of federal AIDS money available to the state.
In particular, Clem says, he riled councilmembers with ties to the Denver Department of Health and Hospitals by arguing that money intended for the care of people with the AIDS virus should not be used to support "exorbitant" salaries of DHH physician/administrators. He also questioned the propriety of councilmembers voting on funding requests for their own agencies.
C.L. Harmer, DHH's chief spokeswoman as well as a councilmember, says Clem's contentions aren't valid. Nor, she adds, were they the sole reason she supported his ouster.
"Lance has many strengths," she says. "But consensus-building was not one of them, and consensus-building was important to his job. It became an issue of diplomacy and tact, not free speech."
Faced with what was becoming an ugly public squabble, in January Governor Roy Romer gave Clem a temporary job with his Community Partnership Office. Romer's staff is still casting about for a satisfactory permanent position. In exchange, Clem agreed last month to postpone further legal action for thirty days. But that agreement hasn't stopped him from talking, and Clem still may get the last word.
At the request of Colorado Senator Hank Brown, the General Accounting Office will be sending its auditors to Denver this spring to investigate how the city and state spend their federal AIDS funds. Brown's request comes shortly before Congress takes up the reauthorization of the emergency-services funding program known as the Ryan White CARE Act.
The GAO action has Denver worried enough that Donna Good, a member of both the governor's and the mayor's AIDS councils, as well as Wellington Webb's liaison with DHH, flew to Washington, D.C., last week to see if she could "neutralize" Brown's possible opposition to reauthorization.
Neutralizing Clem is another matter entirely.
The Governor's AIDS Council is the offspring of the Governor's Task Force on AIDS, a large, unwieldy group of activists, medical experts and bureaucrats that began meeting in 1987; the task force eventually recommended that a smaller, more permanent agency be formed. Romer created the council in 1989 to advise his office on issues such as AIDS testing and health-care services. The council quickly grew to its present contingent of 28 members, appointed by the governor from the ranks of community activists and AIDS-agency representatives across the state.
Under its first executive director, Mary Lou Johnson, the council successfully lobbied for legislation that created sites for anonymous AIDS testing. This was the first--but certainly not the last--time the council would butt heads with the health department, then led by Tom Vernon. Anonymous testing was in direct conflict with Vernon's policy of identifying those people who had been infected with the virus as well as their partners--the traditional method of dealing with sexually transmitted diseases, but one that, given the stigma of AIDS, generated a great deal of controversy.
Despite the anonymous-testing victory, Johnson's council lacked any real authority. It had no budget and was housed in space donated by Kaiser Permanente. And it depended on the health maintenance organization and the governor's office to pick up its bills.