A standing-room-only crowd packed a Cambria Community Healthcare District meeting to fill a seat on the board left vacant by the death of trustee Michael McLaughlin, and judging by the vocal response to the board’s action, a large number went home disappointed.
The board voted 3-1 in the special meeting Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Old Cambria Grammar School to appoint Jerry Wood to McLaughlin’s seat.
Wood, who retired after 37 years with the Pasadena Fire Department, was chosen over Laurie Mileur, a registered dietitian with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and 33 years of experience at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center.
Thirteen people spoke during the public comment period, none of whom supported Wood over Mileur. (Twelve — including McLaughlin’s widow, Nancy McLaughlin — endorsed Mileur outright, while one speaker urged the board to vote for “the person that is qualified” without mentioning any names. Two endorsed Mileur while describing both as good candidates.)
At the close of the public comment, trustee Mary Ann Meyer began to make a motion, but trustee Barbara Bronson Gray asked that the board members discuss the candidates before continuing.
After initially objecting, board President Kristi Jenkins allowed that discussion.
During that exchange that followed, it became clear that Meyer, Jenkins and board Vice President Bob Putney had decided to vote for Wood — a decision that didn’t sit well with some in the audience. A few reacted to Jenkins’ statements during the discussion with shouts of “you’re being ridiculous” and “we need a recall.”
Jenkins responded that “you can hang us out to dry” in the November election, in which she is running for re-election, as is Gray. Former county supervisor Shirley Bianchi, who spoke in favor of Mileur at the meeting, is also running, as is Wood.
The majority of our district isn’t educated about the ins and outs of health care.
Bob Putney, CCHD trustee, in supporting Jerry Wood’s appointment to the vacant position
Tom Gray, who is married to Barbara Bronson Gray, urged the board to appoint Mileur, referencing the fact that Wood is already on the ballot for a full term in November. “You can either let the voters decide whether Jerry Wood becomes a trustee, or you can decide for them,” he said.
Nancy McLaughlin, in her comments, told the board that Mileur would have had her husband’s endorsement: “I know that, in your heart of hearts, you know who Michael would choose, and that’s Laurie Mileur.”
But trustee Bob Putney, who seconded Meyer’s motion to appoint Wood, saw things differently. He and Jenkins both championed the idea of appointing someone without a health care background, arguing that such a person would better represent the underserved members of the community.
“The majority of our district isn’t educated about the ins and outs of health care,” he said, later adding that McLaughlin “came to the board as a non-health-care professional, so we’re following in Mike’s footsteps” by appointing Wood.
During the board discussion, Nancy McLaughlin left the room, saying, “How about loving Michael. How about doing something Michael would want.”
Each candidate for the appointment addressed the board and answered questions from the four trustees.
Mileur spoke first, touting her experience as a health care professional, grant writer and head of a research lab. She spoke in support of expanding health care in Cambria, saying, that two-thirds of district residents were going outside the district to meet their health care needs.
“I fully support our ambulance service,” she said, adding that she wanted to “facilitate increasing local access to health care.”
Wood, who described himself as a “longtime volunteer and a team player,” identified the district’s biggest challenge as “financial stability.”
Both candidates addressed the issue of the aging district offices and ambulance station on Main Street in the East Village. Wood said, “The current living facilities, in my professional code experience, are completely inadequate,” while Mileur called them “functional” but “minimally adequate.”
Wood touted the idea of saving on costs by teaming up with the Cambria Fire Department for employee instruction, while also joining forces to make cheaper bulk purchases of supplies. He also said the district should get the most out of its new ambulance by housing it inside, away from the elements: “If it’s sitting outside, it deteriorates rapidly.”
I know that, in your heart of hearts, you know who Michael would choose, and that’s Laurie Mileur.
When asked about providing walk-in medical services, Wood expressed concern that “most of these (medical providers) are for-profit, and if a patient comes in, they would more likely be referred to another facility out of the area, (in) Paso Robles, Morro Bay. … They’re still shipping you out of the area.”
Some in the crowd murmured disapproval at that response, leading Wood to ask for the same level of courtesy that the audience had shown Mileur during her presentation.
Gray asked Wood about campaign signs in which he encouraged residents to keep the ambulance service local. (He had previously been a driving force in a grassroots effort with the slogan “Keep Cambria Fire local,” when the Cambria Community Services District had been weighing the idea of a long-term contract with Cal Fire.)
Wood described the signs as “a wake-up call for citizens to start asking questions.”
Gray said the district had never considered contracting out for the ambulance service, but Jenkins later defended the signs, as well.
“I’m the person that is running with Jerry Wood,” she said. “The platform that we put out there is to keep the ambulance local. It is a critical need for residents that are here and the tourists who come to visit.”
Gray was the only trustee to vote no on the motion to appoint Wood.
After the vote, more shouts erupted from the audience: “Shame on you!” and “Railroad job” were among those directed at the board.
Although Wood will remain on the ballot for the four-year seat up for election in November, Mileur did not file to run in that election. She said after the meeting that she would, however, consider running in the future.
“I think the culture needs to change, because I think the citizens deserve so much more in terms of health care,” she said. “I think it’s very important to keep this community healthy.”
If Wood wins election to the four-year seat, he could not hold both seats simultaneously, district Administrator Bob Sayers said by phone the following day.
Sayers quoted counsel Ray Biering as saying, “If a candidate is appointed and ultimately is also elected ..., once the elected candidate signs the oath of office and supporting papers, the elected candidate will have effectively vacated the appointed position.”
The board could then appoint someone else to fill the resulting vacancy; other options would be to defer to the Board of Supervisors or an election, Sayers said.