UPDATE: A statement from the “Sherrie Bell for Hospital Board” Facebook page has stated that the August 29 date on a loan agreement referred to below was “is the date that the bank prepared the document[,] not the date it was signed.” It also states that Bell actually signed the document in “mid September.”
Even by the standards of recent Tulare Local Healthcare District meetings, Tuesday’s meeting was heated — almost made for television. And, since this show lacked commercial interruptions, it only lasted nine minutes — with board member Dr. Parmod Kumar and Healthcare Conglomerate Associates CEO Benny Benzeevi absent.
While the agenda was only to meet with legal counsel in closed session, local governments are still required to allow public comment on any agenda item — allowing some opponents of the board time to speak about items on the closed session agenda, which included a recently filed suit against the district, and a Public Records Act suit filed by Deanne Martin-Soares and Emily Yenigues.
Michael Lampe, who is representing various plaintiffs in those two suits against the district, spoke first. In his comments, he revealed that the board had used a recently-approved $800,000 line of credit, in its entirety, to pay a pharmaceutical company.
Almost immediately after Lampe started his remarks, Bruce Greene, contracted counsel for the District, and Sherrie Bell, Chairman/President of the TLHCD Board, attempted to prevent Lampe from speaking. Greene, by speakerphone, stated that his remarks didn’t relate to the agenda, as required at special meetings. Bell repeated that statement.
Lampe retorted, stating that his comments were indeed related to items on the agenda, and spoke about the September 1 special board meeting, in which the Board the line of credit. Lampe held documents in his hand, published below, that discredit statements that the board would bring any use of those funds to a vote.
“Here’s how Dr. Kumar described it. I’ve got a certified transcript of his remarks on September 1,” Lampe said. “‘This particular resolution, and, it is just a line of credit’ — that is not true. I’ve got the note. I’ll show it to anybody here, and it’s going to be uploaded on the Valley Voice. It’s a term note — it’s not a line of credit. It’s payable in 20 monthly installments of 20,000, plus accrued interest.”
“‘So if we do spend this money, they will bring that item to the board, to be voted on by the board, to be spent on a particular item,'” Lampe said, quoting Kumar again. “That is not true. I’ve got the disbursement authorization. I’ve blown it up, so everybody can see it. This is the disbursement authorization on the $800,000 loan. This was signed by Chairwoman Bell. It directs the entire $800,000, every nickel, to be sent to Cardinal Pharmaceuticals.”
“And what’s really amazing about this, is this disbursement request and authorization for the $800,000: this was dated August 29, 2016,” Lampe said, as multiple audience members said ‘oh my god.’ One laughed.
The documents cited by Lampe, available below, call into question Greene’s response to a September 7 Public Records Act request by the Voice, asking for all documents relating to the line of credit referenced at the September 1 meeting. Greene did not send the Voice the full set of documents that Lampe referenced, instead only turning over the “Governmental Certificate” that was made public at the September 1 meeting. His response to the Voice‘s request is available below.
Lampe used the subject of the loan to segue to his next point: that members of the board, excluding Laura Gadke, are scheduled to be deposed in his office next week. He was interrupted by Bell — again acting upon Greene’s advice — who told Lampe not to address the board members individually.
“This is ridiculous,” Lampe said. “You’re paying that man $730 an hour, and he thinks I’m talking about a different lawsuit.”
“It’s not on the agenda, Mr. Lampe,” Greene says from the speakerphone.
Lampe continued after some quarreling between the two.
“Now, your lawyers, they’re really nervous about this — they don’t want you to come into my office, because if you do, you’re going to have to testify under oath to all of this, or, possibly take the…” Lampe said, before Greene stated that his four minutes was up.
“Sherrie, this is nonsense,” Greene said, before giving Lampe 30 more seconds.
“Okay, here’s the 30 seconds’ worth. Your lawyers have threatened to go to court and try to get an order stopping this deposition. It’s not gonna happen. Your lawyers are nervous; I get it, I understand that. But don’t waste taxpayer money on this motion, because you’re gonna lose this motion,” Lampe said, ending his statements as Bell used her gavel to indicate his time was up. “The right thing to do is to raise your right hand, tell the truth, and swear to tell the truth, and do precisely that. You owe this to the public.”
“Thank you for your advice,” Greene said.
Alberto Aguilar, a former Bond Oversight Committee member and local activist, followed Lampe to comment. Aguilar excoriated the board for not following the recommendations of the Tulare County Grand Jury’s recommendations in its ‘Tower of Shame’ report, relating that to the current Public Records Act suit.
“This has nothing to do with the business,” Bell told Aguilar.
“Yes it does, Sherrie, if you let me finish, stop interrupting me, I don’t interrupt you when you talk, let me finish talking,” Aguilar said.
“How is it not reasonable to comply with the laws of the State of California,” Aguilar asked. “Didn’t you take an oath when you were sworn into office that you would obey and uphold the laws of the state.”
“Sherrie, shut him down,” Greene told Bell.
“Sit down, Alberto,” Bell said, talking over the rest of Aguilar’s statement. “Security, escort him out.”
“In my opinion, you’re a disgrace to the residents of the hospital district,” Aguilar said as the guard at the meeting walked towards him, video of which is available above. “All right — I’m gonna sit down.”
Audio from the meeting, the Voice’s September records request, and the documents referenced by Lampe are available below.