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Let board members in, attorney tells Tri-City
Two have been exluded from public health board’s closed session meetings
Oct. 17, 2011
Carlsbad attorney Leon Page is demanding that the Tri-City Healthcare District reopen its closed door meetings to two board members who have been excluded.
Page argued in a cease-and-desist letter to Tri-City on Saturday that he is being disenfranchised as a constituent of Randy Horton and Kathleen Sterling. The letter is a required step before filing a lawsuit.
The two have been kept out of closed session meetings since April as a disciplinary action by the public health board, which provides hospital service for Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista.
The Watchdog earlier this month wrote a story in which experts questioned on what grounds Tri-City was excluding the elected board members, whose attendance at board meetings is granted by the voters who elected them.
The agency declined to cite a legal justification, as the action was taken in a closed session.
Sterling has been censured by the board for allegedly being disruptive and hostile to agency executives. Horton was accused of leaking information from a closed session meeting.
Tri-City’s board attorney, Greg Moser, said that the district would “consider this threat of litigation in due course.”
Members of the board majority say they believe the punishments handed down against Horton and Sterling are justified to protect the integrity of the district’s executive process.
Board member Charlene Anderson has been among the most outspoken critics of the two. She said she stands by the legal advice that Moser has given.
“I believe that Greg Moser knows what he is doing, and so everything that we’ve done he has advised us to do,” Anderson said. “I feel that we are on solid ground. We have to take steps to protect the district when you have board members who are working against the district.”
Page’s letter gives the board until Oct. 28 to reopen closed sessions to Horton and Sterling, or face a lawsuit. A seven-page draft of the lawsuit is attached to the three-page letter.
Page also demands that $100-per-meeting board meeting stipends, withheld from Sterling and Horton, be reinstated with back pay.
“Simply stated, your board lacks the authority to nullify the results of an election,” Page wrote. “Especially for what appears to be a politically motivated effort by the board majority to silence those dissident directors.”
Horton, reached Monday, said he applauded Page’s actions, but was disappointed that it took a citizen to stand up for him and Sterling.
“I just think it’s a shame that the grand jury and DA aren’t representing elected officials and you have a member of electorate spending their own money and time,” he said. “It’s just not fair.”
The courts are currently sorting through a maze of lawsuits and counter lawsuits dealing with the board’s previous discipline of Sterling, who must attend public sessions of board meetings from a video hookup from across the street. She is barred from hospital property (except in emergency) by a temporary restraining order, which the district is hoping to make permanent.
Page said he believes the board’s actions are an attempt to silence viewpoints critical of the hospital administration’s bonuses and salary increases, viewpoints he shares. The closed session issue, he said, has not been discussed in any of the existing lawsuits.
The board met in closed session last month and authorized CEO Larry Anderson to launch a study of whether he should be given a raise. Anderson last received a raise in November, when his base pay increased to $500,000 from $480,000 and a bonus option was added. He was given a $115,000 bonus in August.
Anderson was one of the highest-paid public officials in the state in 2009; his pay ranked 20th among more than 800,000 local government officials listed in a database compiled by the state controller and reviewed by The Watchdog.
“We are litigating my rights as a taxpayer to equal representation,” Page said. “There is an effort to exclude certain viewpoints from that board room, and those directors are being prohibited from meaningfully representing their constituents.”
Page is the attorney who successfully sued the MiraCosta College District to void its $1.6 million severance to former President Victoria Richart.
In 2007, Page sued MiraCosta to invalidate the settlement with Richart, who had fallen out of favor with school officials after a scandal involving the school’s horticulture department and the illegal sale of taxpayer-funded palm trees broke out under her watch.
Page’s lawsuit argued that the settlement was the fruit of illegal secret meetings held by board members in the months leading up to Richart’s resignation.
In 2010, Page backed a slate of candidates who swept out incumbent members of the college board linked to the settlement.