Tempers Flare Over Hospital at Tulare City Council

There were raised voices, arguments, accusations, lectures and in the end no action as the Tulare City Council debated asking the state to audit the Tulare Local Health Care District.

At issue during the latest meeting on September 19 was whether the Council should send a letter to state representatives asking for an audit of the District by the State Joint Audit Committee. Previously, the Council had decided not to send such a letter, but developments at the Hospital District prompted Councilman Jose Sigala to ask to revisit the issue.

“There’s been a recall election. There’s been a person being debated if she should be on the board or not,” he said. “There’ve been legal challenges, there’s money that’s been spent, there’s money that in my case has been mismanaged, and so there’s a lot of different things that have occurred since the last time.”

 

Mind Your Own Business

As last time, Sigala encountered strong resistance from his fellow council members, with the Councilman Greg Nunley and Mayor Carlton Jones arguing it was not the Council’s place to become involved in the District’s affairs.

“I think someone needs to step in and let all the taxpayers know what happened with all the money,” Nunley said. “I think that’s not part of City Council’s business.”

His concern appeared to be politically motivated bias on the part of auditors from the state.

“If they would come down and set both people in the corners and they would come down and audit the books and tell us all what happened, then I’d be for that,” Nunley said. “But, I don’t think writing a letter is proof that’s going to happen. If you can prove that’s going to happen, I’ll stand behind you on that.”

Jones said he didn’t want to raise hopes by asking for an audit.

“I also believe we give a false hope by telling people that the city of Tulare can write a letter with five signatures on it and it’s going to do something in Sacramento,” he said. “It’s not.”

 

Mayor Denies Bias

The Mayor then addressed his personal relationship with Dr. Parmod Kumar, who was recently ousted from the District’s Board in a landslide recall election. Jones is involved in an ongoing lawsuit against the District by its former medical staff, yet he said he now supports Senovia Gutierrez, the woman elected in Kumar’s place who was forced to wait three months after the election to take her seat.

“Everyone knows Dr. Kumar was a dear friend of mine, and I supported him. He lost the election that night,” Jones said. “I still support my friend, and I support Senovia Gutierrez as the new leader of the hospital, and that’s automatic.”

Jones said the state is too busy to concern itself with possibly misspent voter-approved bond funds intended for the construction of the still unfinished expansion at Tulare Regional Medical Center. He also said problems at the hospital have been ongoing for more than a decade, meaning there is no reason to act now. Hospital business, he said, was not something the City Council should address.

“We have our own responsibilities here, as a council,” Jones said. “If I wanted to run the hospital, I would have ran for the hospital board.”

 

Problems and Unmet Promises

Tulare, Jones said, has too many problems of its own to become involved in hospital business. He also attacked Sigala for turning their attention to the District when he had yet to fulfill promises he made during his campaign.

“We have tons of our own money, and own problems, and own department issues, and big issues that we can’t ignore to deal with these issues,” Jones said. “You talk about the promises we made early in the campaign. The alleys on the west side aren’t fixed. We don’t have a bank on the west side. Those are the promises you made when you ran, and now it’s ‘I’m sending letters to Sacramento’ on issues that have nothing to do with your Council responsibilities.”

Sigala, however, said an audit is necessary to protect taxpayers.

“We as elected officials have fiduciary responsibility not only to our own city, but the people we represent,” he said. “All of you pay for that as taxpayers of Tulare, so we do have a responsibility to speak out.”

He also pointed out the historic impact of similar letters to counter Jones’s assertion asking for an audit would be a mere gesture.

“If we took the attitude that letters would not make a difference, we wouldn’t have civil rights gains, we wouldn’t have immigration gains,” Sigala said. “We wouldn’t have a lot of things where people took the time to write letters and take positions. I think this is an opportunity for our city to step up, to be leaders, to say we care about Tulare residents.”

 

Show Me the Money

Seemingly in response to Jones’s mind-your-own-business attitude, Nunley expressed support for Sigala’s desire to ask for help from the state.

“I also agree with (Sigala) a little bit, and (we need to) take a stance as a council that somebody needs to come down in here and straighten things out,” Nunley said. “It’s getting really ugly and really, really bad. There’s a lot of money missing, in my opinion. There’s a hospital tower that’s not finished; $85 million in taxpayer money, somebody needs to tell us what happened to it.”

Tulare residents, he said, have a strong desire to know what happened to the bond funds they approved, as well as the right.

“I’m sure everyone in this room is curious what happened to that money,” Nunley said. “Who’s not curious what happened to $85 million? Raise your hand. I don’t see one hand out there.”

Jones denied the issue was Council business.

“I would tell them that if you came here to this dais to find out what happened to the $85 million of hospital’s money, you’re at the wrong meeting,” he said.

 

Taking a Stand

Nunley concurred that the issue should mainly be dealt with by the newly elected hospital directors, however he doubted penning such a request could be harmful.

“I agree with you 100 percent, but I’m willing to take a stand,” Nunley said. “The letter’s not going to hurt. I’m willing to back this letter to go to Sacramento.”

The Council then voted 3-1, with Sigala dissenting, to table their discussion until the full council was present. Councilman David Macedo was absent. He also missed the previous meeting. Sigala, as he did during the last meeting, objected to waiting.

“I just don’t see why we need that fifth person,” he said.

Jones, speaking in support of Councilwoman Maritsa Castellanoz who suggested waiting, said should they decide to send an audit request, the full weight of the Council would add to its credibility. He also said the delay would allow Gutierrez to finally take her seat. She was seated at a meeting of the District Board on September 27.

Yet, there was still desire to act.

“Something needs to happen,” Nunley said.

 

‘Worse Than You Can Possibly Think’

It was only after the Council reached its decision to wait it allowed the public to speak on the topic. Alberto Aguilar, a former member of the Hospital District’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC), told the Council of his struggle to get information about how the bond money was spent during his two months on the BOC. He also told them about millions of dollars of missing equipment and other discrepancies.

“I can tell you for a fact that there is a lot of money that was misspent,” Aguilar said. “This is a lot worse than you can possibly think.”

He also described the frustration he met with when trying to get State Assemblyman Devon Mathis to request an audit. Mathis, he said, has financial ties to the company that runs Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) and its CEO Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi, that prevent the Assemblyman from acting. Aguilar twice hand-delivered requests for an audit to Mathis’s office, including full documentation of his accusations, he said.

“When he (Mathis) did respond to me and we met face-to-face, his response to me was he couldn’t do it because he owed Dr. Benzeevi a favor,” Aguilar said. “If you take a look at the (Fair Political Practices Commission) Form 460, you will see how much money was contributed to Devon Mathis.”

According to Votesmart.org, Mathis received $7,700 from HCCA, as well as $9,000 from the Tulare County Medical Society, $8,400 from the Doctors Company, $5,200 from the California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery, $3,000 from the California Medical Society, $3,000 from the Magnolia Health Corporation and $2,000 from Health Net Incorporated.

 

Still Not Convinced

Despite Aguilar’s testimony, in which he cited his long publicly-available documentation of the perhaps illegal spending at TLHCD, Nunley still hesitated. He wished to avoid, he said, drawing the Council into the controversy.

“I have no reason to doubt you, but I have no proof to believe you. I hope that makes sense, and I don’t mean to insult you,” Nunley said. “I think everyone in this room would like to see that, but what I don’t want to see is the hospital business, the divisiveness, come into this room from the hospital overflow, pull us into the problem.”

The Council, Aguilar countered, had already put itself in the middle of the debate.

“Well, it seems to me, if I recall correctly,” he said, “all five members of the City Council, excluding yourself and Jose, went ahead and wrote a letter for the hospital, did you not?”

Nunley angrily denied it.

“OK, you’re wrong,” he said. “That is irrelevant.”

Jones, who along with Castellanoz, Councilman David Macedo and former council members Craig Vejvoda and Shea Gowin signed a letter to the California Medical Association (CMA) supporting the removal of the Medical Executive Committee at Tulare Regional, said the two letters dealt with different issues. The current letter, Jones said, addresses the BOC’s failure to do its job, and he placed part of that blame on Aguilar, who was on the BOC for just two months.

“You were part of the Bond Oversight Committee, so you’re pretty much just as much to blame as what happened to $85 million as the hospital,” the Mayor said. “You were in charge of watching $85 and what happened to it.”

He also denied signing the letter on behalf of TLHCD to the CMA.

“What you don’t know and what you shouldn’t accuse me of is writing a letter for the hospital, ‘cause I’ve never done that,” Jones said.

Nunley then began asking Aguilar pointed questions about construction operations, saying Aguilar lacked basic knowledge. He chastised the BOC for failing to do work it was never given the opportunity to do by HCCA and the TLHCD Board. The meeting then broke down entirely into an open argument, with all sides talking over each other.

Eventually, the city attorney intervened, reminding the Council it had strayed from the topic for discussion listed on the meeting’s agenda. Public comment then continued, with former TLHCD Board candidate Jesse Salcido warning the Council away from the topic. He compared the up to $55 million in misspent funds to a minor error on a bank statement.

“Don’t write the letter,” he said. “Wash your hands of it.”

 

Dreamers Get Letter of Support

Despite putting off asking for an audit until the entire Council was present, those present at the September 19 meeting did not hesitate to pen Council support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) in a letter that will be sent to local state and federal representatives. DACA, or the so-called Dreamers Act, allows children of undocumented workers residing in the US to avoid deportation. The program is being ended by the Trump administration.

“I’m going to be honest: I don’t think it’s going to make that big of a difference. But, it will show me and our immigrant community that you guys care,” Jessica Macias Malcado, a beneficiary of DACA, told the Council. “It’s going to show everyone who’s not here tonight that you do (care), as well. It’s not just about whether it will make a difference; it’s about making a difference at home, because that’s the most important thing.”

The council members present voted 4-0 to sign the DACA support letter.

“This issue is definitely Tulare business,” Mayor Jones said.

 

Measure I Oversight In Place

The contention over the TLHCD audit letter was not the first heated debate of the evening. The Council started the night with a series of overdue appointments to the Bond Oversight Committee for Measure I, a half-percent sales tax to improve city services passed more than a decade ago, as well as to the Planning Commission and the Board of Public Utilities (BPU). The Measure I BOC has never been seated.

Dispute began when Jones appointed Chris Soria to the BPU to replace Erica Cubas, Sigala’s selected appointment to the BPU, who had resigned. Sigala claimed he and Jones had agreed to let each council members select a member from their own district to ensure diversity, and that Jones was violating it.

“I believe at this point the Board of Public Utilities is diverse,” Sigala said. “If we appoint someone who’s not from Council District 1, I think we go backwards.”

The City Charter gives the mayor the job of choosing candidates for appointment.

“I hear what you’re saying. (This is) probably a conversation we should have had a little earlier. We’re not going to change the Charter right now,” Jones said. “I hope that you find some consolation in knowing that the person that I am recommending is not only from that district, but you would probably have to be there for 40 years to match his time in that district, so I think we’re going to be just fine when it comes to representation.”

The comment seemed to anger Sigala.

“Don’t tell me there wasn’t a deal,” he said. “There was a deal when we did an initial appointment. … You came out in the newspaper. I campaigned on it; you campaigned on it. We got beat up by the newspapers for changing the BPU.”

Soria was added to the BPU by a 3-1 vote, with Sigala dissending. The Council also appointed Joshua Cox, 24, to the Planning Commission, as well as Maria Grijalva and Nic Ferreira to the Measure I BOC. A fifth member of the Measure I BOC was to be appointed by the Council at its meeting October 3. At that meeting, the Council was also to begin the process of reorganizing the Planning Commission.

The next meeting of the Tulare City Council is 7pm Tuesday, October 17 at the Tulare Public Library and Council Chambers, 491 N. M Street.

20 thoughts on “Tempers Flare Over Hospital at Tulare City Council

  1. IIRC, Carltan Jones did intervene in district business when he campaigned for the thieves.

    Time to initiate recall Jones petition.

  2. Recall Jones. He is not interested in finding out what happened to the taxpayers money. He was interested in writing a letter on behalf of HCCA firing the elected medical staff. Recall Jones.

  3. Carlton Jones ignorance shows everytime he speaks. Just ask any Tulare County firefighter. Recall petition sounds good to me

  4. Mayor Jones comments (“We have tons of our own Money…. The alleys aren’t fixed”) are so irrational , one must conclude that either he is not very bright and/or he is running scared from the truth. Hey Mayor, how is millions of misspent dollars in the poorest county in California, not worth your time? Protect the citizens of Tulare, not your “dear friend” Kumar.

  5. Jones is only interested in making himself important. It is obvious he got rid of the long term volunteer to help the secretaries. All because this person made a comment about how disrepectful it was of the council to start a meeting almost 2 hours late. He doesn’t like anyone saying anything to him that doesn’t make him look wonderful. So full of himself.

  6. Your hospital is broke, your town is broke, you don’t want an audit to find the missing monies ,
    but you have energy to sign a DACA support letter ? That is not your priority.
    Sympathy to the nice people in this town.

  7. Take a drive around Tulare and ask yourself where is all the new commercial devlopment and industrial development? Look at the vacant downtown buildings, vacant Kmart, half filled Mervyns. Ask yourself why HCCA was never held accountable for abating the weed filled lot they are responsible for east of Evolutions,

    What happened to Richie Brothers Auction Yard at Avenue 200 and 99, Flying J at Paige/Blackstone, The Feed facility on Laspina ? We are giving are sales tax dollars to Visalia as with our medical care to KDDH. I went to The Sonic in Visalia due to transients panhandling customers in the drivethru!! Now ask yourself as a business or industry would you come to Tulare with all this turmoil or go elsewhere? Look at the commercial and industrial that is locating in Visalia to benefit their city and improve their quality of life.

    It deeply saddens me to see what has happened to my birthplace, where I grew up, married, had my children at TDH, raised them here and have buried family members here in Tulare Cemetry. Parents who have been here for over 80 years. The Hospital Board has been totally replaced as the Cemetry Board has. I had a lot of respect for Carlton Jones when he ran for City Council and when he was appointed Mayor. But now I do not know what is going on. I can only hope he sees a way in his actions before it is too late!! I will say that if Willard Epps retires I would be the first to support him for City Council a true class act who Carlton needs to follow.

  8. Wow! Jones cares not about what happened to millions of tax payer dollars? Not important?
    Pals with Crooked Kumar? Birds of a feather flock together….

    No wonder Tulare is so poor. Ran by thieves and crooks.

    This idiot needs to be the next to go!

  9. Carlton Jones has an arrogance that exceeds all belief and it seems that Maritsa Castellanoz is Carlton’s shadow……the two go hand-in-hand together. I guess in her eyes a “FULL QUORUM” is required to vote on anything. Since it is a rare city council meeting where all five council members are present she can avoid taking a vote on most everything……..so why is she there??? Greg Nunley comes across as someone who is more interested in playing both sides of the fence and if that fails then he seems to go whichever way the wind is blowing (as long as it makes him look good). David Macedo needs to make a decision on whether he has the time to be a city councilman, and if not then he should pass the baton to someone who does (which in reality he should have left several elections ago – the council could use some new and different perspectives). Carlton Jones represents my district. Carlton presents himself as lacking in decorum, self-discipline, and empathy for someone who holds public office. I can’t say how he interacts with the public while at work as a fireman because his workplace is in Fresno not in Tulare. But he most certainly does have a problem interacting with his fellow citizens in Tulare as well as Mr. Sigala, our newest city council member. In full disclosure I need to say that I voted for Carlton the first time he ran for city councilman but I decidedly did not vote again for him when he ran for a second term. Intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally Carlton is not in my opinion a good fit for Tulare’s city council. He needs to step down and save us the cost of a recall election.

  10. I applaud Jones for not wanting the city to be involved in the hospitals business, the city does need to focus on its own problems not. We all know Sigala is out for his own political gain. He is the one who really needs to be recalled.

    • Our hospital is one of the largest employer’s in our city…..a majority of people employed there live in this city. It’s business IS important and IS a problem when it comes to keeping businesses in Tulare. With no working hospital available what businesses will elect to set up shop here. For that matter what businesses will elect to “stay” here. Think about that.

      • Are you applauding yourself, Mr. Jones? You’ve lost my vote. You want Mr. Sigala recalled because he questions you. God forbid if someone questions you!

  11. If one looks at any community that has a hospital, one will see that usually in most cases, the hospital is the largest or second or third largest single employer in the community. The ACA’s research shows that for every health-care job created, two other jobs are created elsewhere in the economy. “Overall, hospitals support 16 million total jobs, or one of nine jobs in the U.S.,” the ACA found.

    I repeat:
    “— one of nine jobs in the U.S.,” the ACA found.”

    Therefore, the financial health or lack thereof of a community hospital, falls within the area of community and city economic development business and therefore it IS the city’s business and should concern the city’s council and visa versa the city council should be concerned about the hospital and it’s financial well being! – as well as it is the county’s business, also.

    Here’s how some Colorado communities look at this topic.
    “There is no doubt that the health-care industry in Colorado has a huge impact on Colorado’s economy. As one of the largest employers in the state, Colorado community hospitals employed 75,586 people in 2015, creating more than $11 billion in payroll and benefits that were then spent energizing the local economy, according to data compiled by the American Hospital Association. The hospitals themselves spent $12.6 billion in 2015, which contributed $28.9 billion to Colorado’s total state economic output. Nationwide, hospitals contributed $2.8 trillion to the economy.

    Health-care systems such as Boulder Community Health, UCHealth and Banner Health have continued to grow their presence along the Front Range, with new hospitals in Greeley and Longmont and a major expansion of BCH in Boulder.

    “I think in most communities, the health-care system including the hospital, are important employers in any community, if they are fortunate enough to have one,” said Robert Vissers, CEO of Boulder Community Health. “And if you look at it nationally, there’s something like one in nine jobs are health-care related. Health care is 17 percent of the gross domestic product, and that continues to rise.”

    In Boulder, BCH employs more than 2,200 people, but they aren’t just any workers but highly skilled, highly paid jobs that come with good benefits, Vissers said.

    “In general, health-care jobs are high-quality jobs. When you look at our employees, they are not just highly paid surgeons, but incredibly talented and skilled nursing staff, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and lab technicians. The amount of skill and knowledge that comes into this industry is really impressive,” he said.”

    For the complete article, see:
    https://bizwest.com/2017/03/10/hospitals-rank-major-drivers-local-economy/

    I hope whoever reads this, will read the full article. It’s very informative.
    David Wells – Fresno, Calif.
    EVA-knows Company

  12. The UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, which opened in September 2016 at 11820 Destination Drive, supported 300 construction jobs and created more than 100 new health-care jobs in the area. The hospital is 80,000 square feet and has 22 beds.

    According to the American Hospital Association, health care added more than 35,000 jobs per month in 2016. Nationwide, hospitals employ more than 5.7 million people and are one of the top sources for private-sector jobs. Those employees then turn around and buy more than $850 million in goods and services from other businesses.

  13. ACCPRDING TO A FRIEND TRMC EMPLOYEES WILL NOT BE PAID THIS THURSDAY. SOMEONE PLEASE FIRE THE CURRENT MANAGEMENT COMPANY OUT AND GET A NEW ONE IN THERE. TULARE NEEDS A HOSPITAL.

    • I heard the same thing..
      According to my friend, crooked Benny called a meeting and told the employees that he did not know when the board was going to fund him to pay the employees?

      So he said he will pay as money comes in starting with the lower wage employees working up – same as last time. He also said he was thinking of temporarily shutting down the hospital. Out of around 100 employees at the meeting, tsome 30ish walked out with a [email protected]#K Y*& to crooked Benny. And they were not low level wage employees.

      I understand the guy is losing it now – mentally- as he also said he has not slept in 3 days.

      He continues to claim the board has the information for his loans….

      This guy is cracking up and the hospital employees need HELP!!

  14. This is dirty politics at its best, just a case of the rich get richer and the poor, poorer. The mayor would just like Tulare to shut and take being robbed like the good little town it is… Well, when a good majority of the town is unemployed and wondering what happened to 85 million dollars, I guess we can find comfort and praise for the mighty Mr. Jones when we look at our paved alleys. Carlton Jones is a bad person to the core… who only cares about himself and his gain at the end of the day… Trying to get down to the bottom of what really happened with the hospital’s fund is really none of his business anyway, the hospital only sits in the middle of Tulare and employs a great deal of locals, that’s all. Pride before the fall, the bigger they are the harder they fall… Chickens come home to roost… I could go on, but I’m sure you get which way I’m leaning… Recalling the current mayor would be a marvelous change in direction for Tulare. He and his ‘good friends’ will have more time to spend together.

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