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12/20/2012 5:09:00 PM
Hospital Board voids meeting citing Brown Act violations

Marty Bachman


BLYTHE - Despite the objection of their attorney, Palo Verde Healthcare District Board members Sam Burton, Sandy Hudson and President Trina Sartin voted to void the Dec. 5 meeting of the previous board, on grounds it violated the Brown Acct.

The trio said officials hadn't posted the agenda correctly and that agenda items were vague. Board members Quitty Pinon and Catalina McClain voted against the item in a Dec. 14 special meeting.

The board acted after receiving a letter of complaint from Blythe resident Pam Bush, who wrote that she went to the hospital to look for the meeting notice but found it only outside the CEO's office and not in what she claimed were the usual places used in the past.

"This notice is not freely accessible to the public or the employees who go in and out of the east side," she wrote.

Bush then contended that the agenda items did not describe the action the board was taking and that board member Sam Burton had not received notification until a few hours before it started.

"Please correct these violations of the Brown Act, which will remove any need to further litigate these violations per section 54960.1a of the Brown Act," she wrote.

In a letter to Bush, board attorney Robert Patterson, whom the board fired immediately after it voided the meeting, wrote that in addition to posting the notice outside the CEO's office as Bush said, officials also posted notice of the meeting on the hospital website as well as the Palo Verde Library and Blythe City Hall, meeting the requirements of the Brown Act.

Patterson also responded to Bush's charge that the agenda didn't describe the action taken, citing her example that one item read "restated District Bylaws" while, in her opinion, the board adopted a whole new set of bylaws.

"The Bylaws adopted by the Board at that meeting were restated in that they contained different provisions from the previous Bylaws," Patterson wrote.

Patterson also wrote that administration records showed Burton had received 24 hours notice of the meeting, as required by the Brown Act.

"None of the other points raised in your letter suggest a violation of the Brown Act, nor do any of the issues in your letter invalidate the action taken by the Board at its meeting on December 5, 2012," Patterson wrote.

During the Dec. 5 special board meeting, which was the last for the board before newly elected members Sartin and Hudson took the oath of office, the board approved a change to the CEO's contract that gave him responsibility for the hiring and firing of employees and contractors, including, but not limited to, legal counsel and health care and other consultants to help the hospital comply with federal and state laws, including, but not limited to, government payment programs and conflicts of interest.

It also changed his termination clause to base it solely on serious misconduct and allowed him to leave the chief financial officer as his designee during any absence. The former board granted him expense reimbursement for costs to perform his duty, including legal costs to protect his legal rights, mediation, and indemnity.

The former board stated it was amending the contract to "assure that the hospital continues its efforts to operate in accordance with state and federal law, including, but not limited to, the federal and state anti-kickback laws, the Political Reform Act, and Government Code Section 1090."

The hospital and Healthcare District Board currently have a lawsuit against hospital surgeon, Dr. Hossain Sahlolbei, charging him with fraud and violations of the anti-kickback statutes.

The former board also changed the bylaws to limit board members from micro-managing day-to-day hospital operations, to demand the hospital board comply with anti-kickback statutes, the Political Reform Act and other laws, and to require a 4/5th vote to change the bylaws.

At the Dec. 14 special meeting, the second one called in three days, Patterson told the board that he saw no violation of the Brown Act.

"If you're interested in your legal counsels' opinion, that is our opinion," Patterson said.

Board members argued that former Board President Jim Carney did not read the closed session agenda items in public, which they considered to be another Brown Act violation, but Patterson said that even if some violations of the Brown Act took place, they did not rise to the level of voiding the meeting.

"There are provisions in the Brown Act that allow a petitioner to seek an order from a court that actions taken at a meeting were in violation of the Brown Act, requesting that they are void," Patterson said. "First, the district has to be given an opportunity to cure and then a petitioner can go to the court and have something voided. But this is not a court proceeding; this is not the venue provided for in the Brown Act for invalidating action."

Hudson said she disagreed with Patterson.

"From what you said, we can self correct or we can spend the district's money and go to court and have it corrected," Hudson said.

Burton moved to cure the Brown Act complaint, and Hudson seconded.

"It's not open for discussion; we were all at that meeting," Hudson said. "I'm sure we all have a variation of different opinion but to me I'm kind of black and white, it either did occur or it didn't occur. I would personally rather vote here today then waste more of the district's money and people's time. This is our third meeting on this topic. To me it's time to wrap it up."

Burton said that once someone files a complaint, the board has 30 days to correct it.

"We can ignore it or say we looked into it and we're in violation," Burton said. "When a person makes a complaint in the community we have the obligation to acknowledge it and cure it. And by curing it, the best way to cure it is by declaring the meeting, 12/5/2012, null and void. We have to do the first step and get back on track."

Board member Catalina McClain said that the board's attorney had sent a letter stating that no Brown Act violation occurred.

"So now we're taking sides; we're going to decide the lay person, who is not an attorney, to say there's an alleged violation here versus the attorney who says there is no alleged action here?"

Burton responded, "We've been dancing around and our attorneys can't give us a straight answer so the best way to cure it is to go ahead and cure it this way if we decide to."

Patterson said, "Here's a straight answer," but Sartin cut him off then read a letter from an attorney she did not identify.

"To avoid litigation, the most important thing to assure the same approach will not be used in the future, it is requested that the board rescind the actions taken at the Dec. 5, 2012 special meeting," Sartin read from the letter. "These actions include the following: approval of the restated bylaws of the district dated December 2012; approval of the second amendment to the chief executive officer's contract. Any action relative to amending the district's conflict of interest."

McClain again raised the issue of the board taking the advice of its attorneys over a layperson but was cut off. When an audience member spoke up asking for McClain to be heard, Burton accused them of trying to filibuster the meeting. He later asked the board to allow McClain to speak.

"I'm not disagreeing that we need to avoid this complaint," McClain said. "I believe this complaint needs to be addressed. I think that the hospital should have the opportunity to investigate and then if there are Brown Act violations, correct them. We are being asked to take a vote to recant the things that happened on 12/5 of 12 on the basis of this alleged Brown Act violation without even having verification of whether or not an action occurred and what type of degree to cure it, to fix it."

Hudson and McClain began arguing and then Burton apologized to McClain for cutting her off. The board then voted 3-2 to declare the Dec. 5 meeting null and void.

Download the letter submitted to the board from Pam Bush

Download the letter from former Palo Verde Healthcare District Board attorney Robert Patterson in response to the Pam Bush letter

Related Stories:
• TIMES EDITORIAL: District Attorney Paul Zellberbach owes Blythe more than an apology
• Former DA warns board members of potential conflicts
• TIMES EDITORIAL: Medical staff needs to take responsibility for failing grade
• Hospital receives 'F' grade from patient safety advocacy group
• Healthcare District Board authorizes CEO to issue RFPs to contract out transportation and surgical services
• Medical staff seeks to restrain Healthcare District Board from contracting out surgical services

Related Links:
• TIMES EDITORIAL: Let's get bids on hospital services and then make a decision
• Healthcare District files lawsuit against hospital surgeon, Hossain Sahlolbei
• Sahlolbei attorneys file demurrer in response to suit


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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: @ Fat Jackal

You have not yet laid all your cards on the Table. Be prepared!

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: Fat Jackal

Again, posted outside the CEO's office. Can the public just wander through the hospital without being stopped? And the public bulletin board at the library... How about just outside the hospital entrances??? Seems reasonable.

@The Shadow Knows -- I'd be cautious about slandering Jeff Scott that way. He's a very good attorney and if someone were to tell him that you were slandering him in a forum like this, I'm sure he'd sue to have the ISP release the DNS of the poster (AKA you) for his slander suit. Jeff is one of the best lawyers in the state and was hired for his knowledge of HCD law back in the day. I'm sure he would sue based on your statement that he was committing malpractice. It's also Jeff Scott and his investigators that found that a very prominent member of the community embezzled a substantial sum of money from the HCD. A prominent member know sided with Palo Verde Valley Times in their opinion. Ask Blaise Jackson, the investigator. The other thing to ask is if any employee of PVVT has filed suit against any doctor at the hospital. If so, has it been disclosed in any of the recent reporting. Let's put all the cards on the table here.


Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: just me@the shadow knows

shall we gather up a donation and give to our ever so awesome and honest president..Our president that can't control a meeting that does not and will not ever tell the real problem to sit down shut up or leave the room.Those three will never benifit the hospital because their lord has full control over them.

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: The shaddow knows

To:Fat Jackel!
You maybe should attend a meeting or two to get the facts. Or maybe go to the web site and listen to the minutes. The agenda was posted out side the CEO's office because that is a community bulletin board. It was also posted at the local library as well. What was wrong was it was not posted where Mrs. Bush felt it should be. The new board wanted to get rid of the attorney because this attorney warned them of possible conflicts of interest. President Sartain hired an attorney prior to the meeting with 30 years experience. What she didn't add was that he was the same attorney that was removed from reprenting PVH 6 years ago for not performing his duties. If he was let go, why would we want to bring him back!!!!! Thank you for the info on this Francke guy. In the meantime, check out the min. from the meeting of 12-14-12 as hear all the Brown Act violations that occured. It was a joke!!! Burton, Hudson and Sartain and Dr. S wanted the attorneys gone!


Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: @ Fat Jackal

The fact is there was no violation of the brown act and the voiding of the Dec. 5 meeting was not appropriate and the action by the new board was therefore VOID.

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: Fat Jackal

Another thing to point out -- thanks to our recently passed Prop 30, the state no longer must reimburse agencies for posting requirements and the "suspension" of the Brown Act. The new law also takes effect on Jan 1, 2013. Now agencies are simply mandated to meet posting requirements without being paid by the State to do so. Read the Secretary of State's analysis of the Proposition: http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2012/general/pdf/30-title-summ-analysis.pdf




Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: Fat Jackal

You might want to do some more fact checking, whomever you are, before you run off and ramble about things you are not versed in. Yes, a portion of the Brown Act requiring the state reimburse public bodies for the posting of agendas was suspended. However, that does not mean that the Brown Act is/was suspended. The majority of the Brown Act is still in force and about to become much, much stronger. What this "suspension" means for the next month is that government agencies will not be reimbursed for posting agendas. If a board agrees to continue posting, sans reimbursement from the State, they are still subject to the posting requirement of the law. (Did the previous board choose to be less transparent and not post?). Until Jan 1, 2013, a board can choose to not post an agenda but it appears to me that this new Health Care District board is intent on doing the right thing by the public and keeping meetings transparent. The date, Jan 1, 2013 that I mention comes directly from the new provision signed into law by Jerry Brown called the Richard McKee Act in response to exactly this type of behavior. It's Senate Bill 1003, if your curious.

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: @ @ Fat Jackal

That's right, the Brown Act has been suspended by the state legislature. I wonder why our resident expert in Brown Act violations, Pam Bush, didn't know that?????

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: @Fat Jackal Stunned and Amazed

You missed the point.

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: @ Aj McKay

Yes Aj it should be heard in the courts, that is our concern that Burton, Hudson and Sartin will stop the Fraud Lawsuit against Sahlolbei and we will never know what laws may have been broken!

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2012
Article comment by: @ Fat Jackal

You might check with Terry Francke but the posting of agenda's was suspended June of this year by the state legislature to help with budget cuts. Check it out!

The state Legislature suspended Brown Act mandate that local jurisdictions—cities, counties, school districts, water districts and special districts—post meeting agendas for the public. The suspension also allows local boards and councils to forgo reporting to the public about actions taken during closed-session meetings.

There was no VIOLATION!!!!!


Posted: Saturday, December 22, 2012
Article comment by: Aj McKay

I have no comments but neutral comments about the Board, the hospital, or it's employees. And nope never been in the front page. I'm simply a person who has grown up here like many others and know that Blythe isn't just drugs, crime, and hospital issues. There are many citizens of Blythe that do not deal with these issues and a few that do but it's easy to give them a lot of attention. The good people here that mind their own business, work, and live a decent life crime free outweigh the few that do not and make the news. I simply rather wait until the outcome to post judgement, give negative opinions, or talk badly about an individual. The reality is that none of us posting will change how issues will be resolved. That would be determined by the courts or other ways seen fit. PVVT reporting news is fine. It's always obvious a side will be chosen either way. My point is that if news is being reported, it should be more diverse. Yes the world isn't all positive and crime free, but it isn't all bad either. You can say facts are stated in most cases but the subjects picked PVVT say a lot too. It's their newspaper and their news. I respect that, but too bad most comments posted do not show respect also. Thats the real reflection of our community. Attitudes say a lot.

Posted: Saturday, December 22, 2012
Article comment by: Fat Jackal

@ Stunned and Amazed: I'm surprised by your ignorance of the Brown Act. It's a must-know topic for informed citizens. And it's easily found. Just Google "Brown Act" or better yet, "California Government Code 54950". @Wow -- just because the former board attorney says there was no violation doesn't mean he is correct. Want to find out if it was a violation? File a request for a Grand Jury investigation. Better yet, ask Terry Francke of Californians Aware if the situation was a Brown Act violation -- he wrote a good portion of the law and is the go-to guy on the Brown Act. Perhaps that's who the board members consulted? Not posting an agenda in a public place is one of the most serious violations of any Sunshine Law. Why post it outside the CEO's office? How accessible is that to the general public? Can we just wander around the hospital now? Maybe the newspaper, if it really wants to get to the bottom of the situation and do some hard news reporting, will call Terry Francke themselves and ask him if it was a violation. I'm betting the Times would be surprised in the answer.

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012
Article comment by: just me@concerened citizen

I'm thinking Aj could have at one time made the front page .And still can't let it go and this is his/her way at trying to get back at the Times.Keep up the good work PVVT. I am very interested in what is going on in our community.A lot of people don't like seeing the ghost being let out of closets.I am seeing more and more in each editorial.I always thought snakes crawled but time has changed I see they have grown legs and are walking.

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012
Article comment by: Concerned Citizen

So Aj you do not support the hospital or the board, you just dislike the PVVT?
I must say if they didn't provide information about the Hospital and it closed they would be ridiculed by you and others for not keeping you informed. I guess it is just impossible to satisfy everyone!



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