Stark divisions were apparent on the Cambria Community Healthcare District Board of Trustees at its regular meeting Tuesday night, June 23, with a vote to change board officers likely to occur at the July meeting.
After considerable discussion and direction from CCHD counsel Raymond Biering, the board voted 3-2 to place on next month’s agenda an action item to recall board positions and hold a subsequent election.
The motion was entered by Bob Putney, the board secretary, who was joined by trustees Mary Anne Meyer and Kristi Jenkins in favor. The board’s president and vice president, Michael McLaughlin and Barbara Bronson Gray, respectively, were opposed. Putney and Jenkins each have served as board president in the past.
Trustees tackled the “procedure for removal of any CCHD board member from their elected board position” first among regular action items.
Biering reported that the board did not have the power to remove a trustee from the board altogether, but he did state that he believed it was lawful to remove trustee from an office, such as president, to which he or she had been elected by other board members.
Trustees elect officers on an annual basis each November.
“This rarely, if ever, arises, because the process of removing an officer can be a very disruptive process,” he told the board. Nonetheless, he voiced the opinion that “the board can, it has the inherent authority, to remove its officers by majority vote.”
He added, however, that no such vote could be taken at Tuesday’s meeting because it had not been placed on the agenda and such a vote would therefore violate California’s public meetings law, the Brown Act.
Meyer, who asked that item be placed on the agenda for discussion, told the audience that she had done so “simply to discuss the procedure for removal, nothing else.”
However, when McLaughlin asked whether anyone wished to make a motion concerning a vote on the officers, Meyer offered one to consider next month removing President McLaughlin and Vice President Gray from their offices. Her motion received no second, but Putney then offered a motion of his own, worded slightly differently, and it received the 3-2 vote necessary to place the item on next month’s agenda.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 28.
Tuesday’s meeting took place before an audience of more than 30 people who filled every seat in the Rabobank conference room, and several members spoke during the public comment period. None of those speakers voiced agreement with the idea of holding a new vote.
Paul Carlson of Cambria asked the board, “Is there an intention to remove an officer any time there is a disagreement?” He concluded that, “Basically, the officers serve at your pleasure, and you can remove them for chewing bubble gum.”
In moving to put the vote on next month’s agenda, however, Putney expressed concern that the board’s leadership “appears adversarial to our employees,” adding that “we have to take care of our employees because, in the end, they serve you.”
McLaughlin and Gray both denied having done anything wrong, with Gray declaring that the apparent officer-recall process “has absolutely no merit” and McLaughlin saying, “I’ve never engaged in any high crimes or misdemeanors.”
But Biering said no malfeasance was necessary to schedule a vote to remove officers and elect other members of the board to replace them.
The divisions on the board were apparent on other issues, as well. The board split on the same 3-2 lines over a vote on the language of the district’s response to the grand jury on the issue of working with local fire agencies. It was similarly divided on whether to place an ambulance on standby during an August charity event at the Hearst Dairy Barn.
“I’m surprised that people well enough to eat and dance there need their own ambulance,” Gray stated in opposing paying ambulance operators overtime to staff the event, a move she said sent the wrong message to other constituents who didn’t receive similar treatment. “Why do we have to put an ambulance there and wait for one of the wealthy donors to get a splinter?”
She pointed out that trustee Jenkins was involved with the charity that benefits from the function, Wilshire Hospice.
Jenkins, who said she’d been a “substantial donor” to Wilshire Hospice for more than a decade, responded that an ambulance at the event was appropriate because “it takes probably 20 minutes to get up to the dairy barn if we had an emergency.” Proponents of the move said the district would spend far less on the precaution than it would responding to such an emergency if no ambulance were on site.
The discussion led up to a vote on a nearly $1.64 million budget for 2015-16, which district Administrator Robert Sayers said included a 2.6 percent projected annual increase in revenue over the 2014-15 budget.
“We are budgeting a $16,000 revenue-over-expense margin this year, which is a turnaround of almost $100,000 from last year’s budget,” he reported.
Also Tuesday, the board received a report from Mary Summers, a registered nurse, on the initial findings from a community survey her group conducted on attitudes toward health care in the district.
Among the findings, she reported that several respondents expressed concern over the lack of access to urgent care. Others cited long wait times for lab work, financial barriers, a shortage of primary care physicians and the absence of an X-ray facility as issues they would like to see addressed.
On the positive side, Summers noted that “the things that people really like are the emergency services and physical therapy.”