Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria health board owes public explanation for vote on officers

“Throw the bums out!” It’s become the familiar rallying cry of a dissatisfied electorate as elections approach, but it’s also become more common in the middle of an elected official’s term.

Those harsh words are seldom used, but the sentiment behind them is the same: Some folks, unhappy with the performance of an officeholder — or merely unhappy because the opposition is in power — find a reason (or an excuse) to seek that person’s ouster.

Consider: Each of the past three presidents has faced calls for impeachment. 

  • Last year, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin urged Barack Obama’s impeachment over what she termed “his unsecured border crisis,” but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to pursue that course.
  • In 2008, Rep. Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment against George W. Bush, many of them related to the war in Iraq. Those articles never came to a vote in Congress.
  • In December 1998, the House of Representatives succeeded in impeaching Bill Clinton, charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice. (Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.)

Such moves, whether undertaken at a local or national level, are inherently disruptive. They distract from the business of governing by putting the spotlight on the elected officials themselves, rather than on the issues they were elected to address. 

That’s fine if it’s justified. Such a distraction would be worthwhile to remove a criminal.

The vote to change healthcare board members’ titles in Cambria comes near the end of their one-year term as officers — just as the push for impeachment came late in each recent president’s tenure. (In fact, the move to impeach Bush came so late in the game that it was still in committee when his term ended, rendering the entire effort moot.)

CCHD counsel Raymond Biering mentioned this more than once at the board’s June meeting. 

“Now keep in mind,” he said at one point, “you have an election coming up in November anyway, so you’re only talking about a few more months at this point.”

Nonetheless, the board majority went ahead and scheduled further discussion and a probable vote at the panel’s next meeting on whether to remove two officials from their leadership positions. That meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, at Rabobank. 

The board president, Mike McLaughlin, and its vice president, Barbara Bronson Gray, face the possibility of being removed from those offices, though they would remain on the board. (Although the board chooses its own leaders, the seats themselves are filled by the electorate.)

So why take such a vote this late in the game, despite Biering’s assessment that “the whole process of removing an officer can be a very disruptive kind of process”?

Here’s the rub: We don’t really know.

No one has called anyone a “bum,” but there have been some heated exchanges on the board that provide public evidence of tensions and personality conflicts. One board member has been called a “rogue” trustee and has responded by declaring that the board should not be a “monarchy,” where the same trustees regularly serve in positions of leadership.

We also know, from previous votes and discussions, that there’s disagreement on a variety of issues, ranging from the name of the district to the presence of an ambulance at Hearst Ranch for a charity event. A survey spearheaded by Gray and conducted by a group of nurses has also been a bone of contention. 

But this isn’t like an impeachment proceeding, where formal charges must be filed, and a conviction must be obtained in order to remove a sitting president.

McLaughlin even referenced Richard Nixon’s near-impeachment and ultimate resignation at the June meeting when he denied having committed “high crimes or misdemeanors.” Gray, similarly, said she’d done nothing wrong.

The fact is, according to Biering, cause need not enter into it. 

“When I look at removal of an officer, I think of it in terms of malfeasance in office or some action that’s causing significant detriment to the district,” he said at the June meeting. “I think, in good conscience, there needs to be, but I don’t know that there’s a legal requirement.”

This led audience member Paul Carlson to remark during public comment that, “basically, the officers serve at your pleasure,” (that is, the board majority’s), “and you can remove them for chewing bubble gum.”

None of the board members who put the vote on this month’s agenda with a 3-2 vote — Bob Putney, Kristi Jenkins and Mary Ann Meyer — said at the meeting why they wanted to do so. They didn’t even say whom they wanted to recall (though Biering did say it appeared that Gray and McLaughlin were the intended targets). 

Biering may be right in stating that, as a matter of procedure, they don’t have to reveal their reasons for seeking the vote. But as a matter of principle, they owe it to the voters who elected them to do precisely that. 

The roles of board officers

Unlike the U.S. president, the presidency of a parliamentary body isn’t an executive position. The person in that position doesn’t hold any veto power, and his or her vote carries the same weight as any other member of the board. The board president’s authority is primarily procedural, involving such tasks as setting the agenda and maintaining order at public meetings. The vice president presides over meetings in the president’s absence.

The CCHD board operates under Rosenberg’s rules of order, which are somewhat different from the more customary Robert’s rules of order. The role of the president under Rosenberg’s rules, as revised in 2011 and described by Judge Dave Rosenberg at

“For all intents and purposes, the chair makes the final ruling on the rules every time the chair states an action. In fact, all decisions by the chair are final unless overruled by the body itself.

“Since the chair runs the conduct of the meeting, it is usual courtesy for the chair to play a less active role in the debate and discussion than other members of the body. This does not mean that the chair should not participate in the debate or discussion. To the contrary, as a member of the body, the chair has the full right to participate in the debate, discussion and decision-making of the body. What the chair should do, however, is strive to be the last to speak at the discussion and debate stage. The chair should not make or second a motion unless the chair is convinced that no other member of the body will do so at that point in time.”