SALT LAKE CITY -- Rumors began to swirl mid-week that former Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell had secured a new high-paying job.
On Friday that buzz became official when trustees for the Utah Hospital Association ratified Bell's appointment as the nonprofit trade organization's new chief executive, effective Nov. 1.
For Bell, a Fruit Heights resident who recently turned 65, this is yet another in a long succession of notable hats he's worn through the years: land-use attorney, real estate developer, Farmington mayor, state senator, and since September 2009, Utah's second in command.
In mid-September, Bell announced that he would step down from his role as lieutenant governor because the recession had taken a toll on his real estate ventures and he needed to make more money before retirement.
According to utahsright.com, the lieutenant governor position paid $104,000 per year plus benefits.
The Utah Hospital Association dates back to 1920, said Member and Community Affairs Director Jill Vicory. As CEO, Bell will help shape the future for the association's more than 50 member hospitals and medical/treatment centers. The association serves as a legislative advocate as well as a clearinghouse for health care information.
As a state senator in 2009, Bell co-sponsored legislation that appeared to put an end to the "revolving door" syndrome, requiring an exiting lawmaker or state official to wait one year before becoming a lobbyist. Whether that statute affects Bell's current situation is unclear.
The law says the one-year restriction does not apply if the former state official lobbies on his own behalf or for a business with which he's associated -- unless the business's primary activity is lobbying or government relations.
"That exception is the Greg Curtis/Mark Walker memorial loophole -- so big you can drive a Mack truck through it," said Alan Smith, a Salt Lake City-based attorney who served as legal counsel for Utahns for Ethical Government, a group that unsuccessfully fought to get comprehensive ethics legislation on the ballot.
Smith called the 2009 law "cynical legislative intent to give the appearance of shutting the revolving door while in substance leaving it open."
Janet Jenson, a Salt Lake City health care attorney who was also involved with Utahns for Ethical Government, considered it a stretch to say that the Utah Hospital Association's primary activity is not lobbying or governmental relations.
"For years and years, their primary work has been government relations, especially with regard to Medicaid funding and legislative control of Medicaid," Jenson said.
In addition to the 2009 statute, Gov. Gary Herbert signed an executive order in 2010 prohibiting executive branch officials from being lobbied by former executive branch officials for two years.
A nationwide search preceded Bell's selection, Vicory said.
David Entwistle, who chairs the association's board, said that close to 30 individuals from around the country applied for the position, and that field was narrowed to six who were brought in for interviews.
Entwistle declined to disclose Bell's salary but said that he'll be making more than he did as lieutenant governor.
The lobbyist restriction issue did come up when considering Bell, Entwistle said.
"Certainly we looked at that. Our primary function is not lobbying," Entwistle said. "Our goal is to bring hospitals around the state together in a collaborative environment to work on things we can do to further the industry and improve the health of our communities."
Dave Gessel serves as the association's paid lobbyist, Entwistle added.
Attempts to reach Bell by phone were unsuccesful Friday.
Chris Dallin, public relations director for Intermountain McKay Dee Hospital Center, applauded the board's choice.
Greg Bell is a good friend of mine. I've known him since his days as Farmington mayor," Dallin said. "He's an honest man who does great work in the community and would be an asset to any organization."
Bell replaces Rod Betit, a former Utah Department of Health director who took the association's reins in 2010. Betit made his mark as a Medicaid and health care reform expert, according to utahhospitals.org.
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.