Cambria healthcare district trustees accused of meeting in secret

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMay 2, 2014 

Don Melendy

KATHE TANNER — ktanner@thetribunenews.com

Former Cambria Community Healthcare District administrator Don Melendy is accusing district trustees of violating the state Brown Act, which governs open meetings, in a letter to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office.

The district has held numerous meetings over the last year or more regarding its chief administrator position, vacant since Melendy retired in July 2012, as well as about salary negotiations with district paramedics and other employees.

In the April 22 letter, Melendy, who held the district administrator job for seven years and worked for the district for 37 years, alleges that trustees met in secret April 9 without the required advance notice to the public.

When closed sessions are allowed for certain specified reasons, including personnel issues and property negotiations, state law says the agency must give prior notice of the meeting, allow public comment before the closed session and then report later in open session any actions or votes taken.

Bob Putney, president of the district’s board of directors, said he mishandled the April 9 meeting and later corrected the mistake by calling another meeting following Brown Act procedures.

“If there was an error made,” Trustee Mike McLaughlin told The Tribune on Friday, “I believe we corrected it. There was nothing nefarious involved here. It was something we thought we were proper in doing, and when we were told not to, we stopped doing it and corrected it.”

In his letter to the district attorney, Melendy said he believed the public was not properly notified in advance of the April 9 meeting.

“This was a blatant, illegal, secret meeting … held in direct violation of the Brown Act.,” he wrote.

He asked the DA’s office to review the issues and take appropriate action to make sure the trustees function in “an open, transparent fashion to keep the public informed of their actions.”

A representative of the DA's office said Friday they are reviewing the letter and that no investigation is currently taking place.

Melendy said in the letter that at least four employees witnessed the April 9 gathering and were told to leave the office because the board was in a closed session. When one employee inquired if the public had been informed of the meeting or if an agenda was posted, he was told no.

Melendy’s three-page letter made other accusations of inaccurate agenda listings and failing to report actions taken in closed session. He did not specify how often this occurred.

Melendy also outlined the alleged violations at a board meeting on April 22.

Putney said Friday he hadn't yet seen the letter. He said the board held a closed session April 9 to discuss hiring a new administrator. Later, when he called the district's legal counsel, the lawyer said Putney misunderstood instructions he'd been given. Putney called another meeting two days later, notified the public and the press, and held the meeting according to Brown Act regulations.

"I made a mistake," Putney said. "I misunderstood what counsel said."

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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