Don Sevrens,
San Diego Union-Tribune editor

U-T Editorial: Code blue, Tri-City
Hospital's board split puts its future at risk
Editorial by Don Sevrens
San Diego Union Tribune
January 7, 2009


In what should be categorized as a coup d'etat,
four of seven directors of the public hospital
district met on 24 hours' notice Dec. 18. They put
the hospital's top administrator and seven
department heads on paid administrative leave.
They cashiered the district's legal counsel. They
hired an accountant with no hospital experience
to both conduct a forensic investigation of past
practices and serve as interim chief executive of
a major hospital that has the county's second-
busiest emergency room.

The board majority – veterans RoseMarie Reno
and Kathleen Sterling, and new directors George
Coulter and Charlene Anderson – used the short
notice to prevent three minority members from
participating.
Complex issues were resolved in an
hour.

This week a special board meeting was called to
address Brown Act, or open meetings law,
violations alleged not just by the public and news
media, but by directors Larry Schallock, Ronald
Mitchell and Dr. Madeline Rodriguez,
and by
Leslie Devaney, legal counsel for the eight
administrators on leave.

To date, the public has no understanding of
what is happening or what is being
investigated.

Is potential fraud or incredible
incompetence the issue, or is it just petty
political pay-backs?
















Procedurally, the latest meeting was a farce.
Various agenda drafts had different numbers so
no one was sure of what was being discussed.
Some board members received backup material,
some apparently did not.
The public never saw it.
Directors even debated whether the public, who
are the owners of the hospital, should be allowed
to speak at all. They turned public comment into
board/citizen debates and attempted to intimidate
speakers by asking where they were employed.






Board Chair Reno told audience members that if
they were hospital employees on the clock they
were in violation of state law and should leave.



Vice Chair Sterling tried to silence the hospital's
medical chief of staff...
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Don Sevrens says he did not call
ahead to Tri-City Healthcare to ask
for a media packet.  Mr. Sevrens
says he was in the back of the room
during the meeting he writes about
(SDUT reporter Lola Sherman was in
the front), but  
based on what Mr. Sevrens wrote, it
almost seems that he wasn't there.

Mr. Sevrens says he will write a
correction regarding incorrect
statements in this editorial.
Leslie Devaney's law partner Ray Artiano
said he was giving his three minutes to
Leslie Devaney.  She spoke for about 6
minutes.  She said she was speaking as a
member of the public, but then she
mentioned her client.  The board asked
who she was representing, and she
wouldn't say.
Everyone knew what was going on.  The
final draft had small corrections, but critics
were making a mountain out of a molehill.

All members were sent a fax.  Karen Arant,
executive secretary, is meticulous, a
perfectionist.  She makes sure everyone
gets the material.  She always prepares
meeting materials, precisely lined up, and
sets up refreshments.

Educated people were out of control.  
That's what the discussion was about.  
Everyone can't speak at the same time.
Kathleen Sterling, not Reno, said If you
are working for the government, you can't
be politicking on government time.  This
was a meeting for the public.
The Chief of staff was sitting on the dais.  
Sterling asked counsel if he can go to the
podium and criticize the hospital when he's
there representing the hospital.  Attorney
Julie Biggs said it was okay for him to do so.

The real problem was that he spoke
for about 7 minutes even though he
was limited to 3 minutes as a
community member.  

An even bigger problem was that he
was speaking on topics that were not
within the agenda item.  He was legally
entitled to 0 minutes for that.
The public has no understanding?  Speak
for yourself, Mr. Sevrens.  What is being
investigated is possible financial
wrongdoing.
 

The financial records won't show the
motives of actions, only the actions
themselves.  Surely you are not
suggesting that the board announce their
suspicions as to whether administrators
might be dishonest, or just plain stupid?  
You have a bad habit, Mr. Sevrens, of
demanding this sort of opinion from
people you are attacking.  I remember
your making this precise charge against a
Chula Vista Elementary School District
administrator when I spoke to you about
your
cover-up of the true story when you
wrote ad nauseum about "The Castle Park
Five" at  
Castle Park Elementary.  The
administrator couldn't legally or ethically
tell you his opinion of employees, yet you
berated him for not doing so.
Maura Larkins'
response
Don Sevrens editorial on Tri-City
hospital meeting
All this leaves an accountant still trying to do a
forensic investigation and run a major hospital.
All this left directors interviewing potential
replacement chief executives, not knowing how
long the interim would last, whether the
incumbent on leave would return, or what
exactly they were looking for. All this leaves
eight reputations under a cloud and the
district's legal exposure mounting.

How can the situation be turned around? The
board should slow down and become
completely transparent. Majority directors
should quit hiding behind “privacy provisions.” If
they suspect fraud or incompetence, they
should say so. If they want to do a complete
housecleaning, no matter what the severance
costs, they should say so.

MiraCosta College's Palmgate scandal and
ensuing events are an example of what the
tyranny of a board majority can do to an
institution. Tri-City and the taxpayers do not
need that. This board has seven slots, not four
– for a reason. All seven members need to be
heard in order to move the district forward.