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Group Demands Grossmont Healthcare Board Nullify Action on Vacancy

La Mesa Patch (2010-11-17) Kenneth Stone

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More Info: COPs Program, Grossmont Healthcare Board

Letter says the board violated the Brown Act with a "secret meeting" in which directors decided not to give former board member Jim Stieringer his seat back.

The public-agency watchdog group Californians Aware has demanded that the Grossmont Healthcare District board rescind its "unanimous action taken in secret" at a closed session Monday. Directors met on a request from Jim Stieringer, the 18-year board member who resigned but five days later asked for his seat back.

In a letter dated Nov. 17, Calaware's Richard P. Mc Kee asked that "the Board of Directors shall, by formal action: (1) publicly agree that the closed session held on [Nov. 15] was in violation of the Brown Act; (2) rescind the unanimous actions taken in that closed session; and (3) publicly report the entire discussion had within that closed session."

Terry Francke, general counsel of Cal Aware, said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon that such a demand letter was needed within 90 days of the closed session to preserve the group's right to sue. He said a lawsuit isn't yet in the works.

Mc Kee called the closed meeting of the board Nov. 15 a violation of the state's open-meetings law, called the Brown Act.

He told the board he was making the demands "to protect the public's right to observe and to be involved in the decision-making of its public agencies" and that "the improper discussion and actions taken in this unauthorized closed session must be challenged."

Grossmont Healthcare District general counsel Jeff Scott said he would "respond to Mr. Mc Kee" later in the day.

Ray Lutz, the recent congressional candidate who warned the board Nov. 15 about a possible Brown Act violation, said Wednesday via e-mail: "If any meeting should be conducted in public, this one was it."

He noted that "there was and is no lawsuit" that would justify a closed session. "It was not an employee matter. Since Stieringer was an elected official, he has no right to privacy. I am particularly disturbed that Barry Jantz, the CEO and likely co-conspirator in the case, was allowed to sit in and participate in these closed session meetings."

Lutz repeated his contention that the handling of the district's $60,000-a-year project liaisons monitor position Stieringer quit the board in order to pursue "was at least sloppy, and smacks of insider dealing since Stieringer was the only applicant when I first got wind of it.

"That's why I asked the board to reprimand Jantz for his involvement in this attempt to rip off tax payers up to a million dollars, depending on how long Stieringer lives," Lutz wrote, alluding to the pension benefits that could accrue Stieringer as an 18-year board member retiring off a larger salary.

Lutz said Cal Aware's demand letter "is a useful step to shake this group to their senses. Any such board could claim that they may be sued for just about anything they do, and if that is all they needed to go into closed session, all meetings will wind up closed and the Brown Act will be just a joke."

He said that without Citizen Oversight and "bringing this deal into the open, the board likely would have just rubber-stamped the deal between Jantz and Stieringer. 'We tried to find good applicants, but it looks like Stieringer is the only one who applied,' they would have reasoned."

Francke, who helped found Californians Aware in 2004, is former executive director and general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition and legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

He said Mc Kee is vice president for open-government compliance for Calaware. Mc Kee is a semi-retired chemistry professor at Pasadena City College, who said in the letter that he was writing "as an individual member of the public and on behalf of Californians Aware, as its authorized representative."

The Grossmont Healthcare District acts as landlord to Sharp Grossmont Hospital and seeks to satisfy the unmet health-care needs of a large East County area stretching from Santee and Lakeside on the north to Spring Valley and Lemon Grove south and Campo and Buckman Springs to the east.
Topic revision: r1 - 18 Nov 2010, RaymondLutz
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