Political Fix (5 January, 2017)

A Turning Point for All

Of the top ten stories on the Valley Voice’s Facebook page and website, the Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC) and Healthcare Conglomerates Association (HCCA) took up six and eight spaces respectfully.

The first article written in March 2016 by reporter David Adalian was a turning point for both the citizen s of Tulare and the Valley Voice.

It was a turning point for Tulare because the article finally told the residents the truth about what was going on with their hospital.

Mr. Adalian’s follow-up article revealed, among many other things, how the hospital board signed an incredibly sweet deal for Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA), owned by Dr. Benny Benzeevi and his brother, Iddo.

That deal, rumored to not have been thoroughly read by some of the board members, made it possible for HCCA to buy the hospital from Tulare, possibly buying it with the District’s own money.

As I write, Mr. Adalian is compiling another article on the lawsuit brought by the old Medical Executive Committee (MEC) against HCCA and the hospital board of directors.

His article is full of game-changing depositions that will undoubtedly rile up Tulare again and cause HCCA some heartburn.

Reporter and Webmaster Tony Maldonado complimented Mr. Adalian’s coverage by researching into HCCA’s new contract with Inyo Regional Hospital in Lone Pine and attending some hair-raising regular TRMC board meetings.

At one such meeting, the five members of the board were served with lawsuits, Dr. Kumar was served with recall papers, and a heart wrenching letter was read about an older woman who sat all day in the hospital with a strangulated hernia without care and died the next day.

Mr. Maldonado followed up this article by reporting on how a supposed $800,000 line of credit was used to pay off a huge hospital debt without the public’s knowledge.

As much as the reporting on the hospital has changed the future of Tulare, it also changed the trajectory of the Valley Voice.

An avalanche of threats poured into our email on March 17 before Mr. Adalian’s first article even hit the stands. Bruce Greene, Benny and Iddo Benzeevi’s personal Los Angeles lawyer, threatened “damages here may well be measured by the hour.”

The emails from Mr. Greene were so menacing our personal lawyer advised us to stop distribution until we could get counsel from a First Amendment lawyer.

By mid-afternoon it looked like we were going to have to pull the paper and pay for a reprint without Mr. Adalian’s article.

Then John Sarsfield, a local lawyer and former DA of San Benito County, got on the phone and told us, “at some point you just have to get a backbone and take a stand.”

From that point on, we never looked back.

Mr. Sarsfield wrote back to Mr. Greene, “The Valley Voice writes stories about government corruption and malfeasance. The subjects of the stories are persons and things that are of public concern, such as allegations of missing bond construction monies, questionable employment practices, improper conduct of elected officials, and the like […] What is clear is that your client, and presumably its elected board of directors, does not like the public scrutiny it is finally receiving. Too bad.”

We called our distributor and told him to finish delivering the paper. Mr. Adalian and Mr. Maldonado continued their relentless reporting on the opaque dealings of HCCA.

Their stories raised awareness while two incumbents lost their hospital board seats and a potential $55 million construction-focused cash infusion was rejected by the voters in a 2/3 failure.

In addition, the recall of Dr. Parmod Kumar, the board’s longest-serving member, marches on in full swing.

Grace Homes Permanently Closes

The fifth biggest story was in 2016’s first issue and concerned Grace Homes. Sherrie Kuns Fehlman filed a complaint that claims that “The Grace Homes, ‘denied a work environment free of discrimination and/or retaliation’ that ended in her losing her job. The complaint revolves around the actions of The Grace Homes’ current chief financial officer, Phil Luna.”

Eleven months later, in December, Sherrie, Gale and Glenda Kuns filed formal suits for damages against Grace Homes and CEO Luna.

Sherrie Kuns-Fehlman is suing for sexual harassment, physical assault and creating a hostile work environment. Gale and Glenda Kuns, founders of Grace Homes, are suing for wrongful termination.

For decades, The Grace Homes was a well-respected icon of Visalia, dedicated to residential care, education and rehabilitation of troubled adolescent girls, from 12 to 18 years of age.

Established in 1987, the facility was the only place in the state that was licensed and had the ability to deal with the emotional needs of sex-trafficked pregnant girls and other victims of sexual abuse.

The Grace Homes formally closed its doors last summer. Problems escalated when it was discovered that Gale Kuns had not obtained the proper permits to operate the facility and the agency fell into debt.

According to former board member, Phil Mohr, all assets have been sold off and the agency closed without owing money.

The mismanagement of Grace Homes occurred before Phil Luna was hired as CEO in January of 2015 and is not part of the suit.

The legal problems started in 2015 when the board of directors were made aware of Sherrie Kuns Fehlman’s allegations of sexual harassment.

They ordered an investigation and concluded in July of 2015 that, “the Committee finds there was no sexual harassment by Phil Luna against Fehlman resulting in a unanimous decision of complete exoneration of the allegations against Mr. Luna.”

The Kuns’ lawyer, John Sarsfield, said of the board’s conclusion, “Let me guess, the Grace Homes Board exonerated themselves?”

The Kuns’ lawsuit goes to court in April 2017.

Mohr reacted to the upcoming lawsuit by saying he didn’t think the case would get to court.

“I have no idea why they are pursuing this suit. These people are completely nuts and I’d tell them to their face. They need to let it go.”

Mr. Luna claims he was only in the same room with Kuns-Fehlman on one occasion and it was in the company of her parents and an employee. Beside one phone call from Kuns-Fehlman, that was the first and last time they ever interacted, making her allegations of sexual harassment impossible.

But a request for a restraining order two years prior, in 2013, casts doubt on Mr. Luna’s alibi.

Mr. Luna denies that an altercation between Sherrie Kuns and himself ever took place, but the 2013 complaint by a co-worker of Mr. Luna’s wife is eerily similar to Kuns-Fehlman’s’ experience, making it hard to believe she simply made it up.

On November 25, 2013, a Civil Harassment Restraining Order was filed against Phil Luna by a woman who worked with his wife. The person seeking protection states, “Mr. Luna started yelling ‘remember who your supervisor is.’”The plaintiff’s supervisor was Mr. Luna’s wife.

The plaintiff then states in her complaint, “As Mr. Luna was yelling he shut the door to Ms. Martinez’ office. I felt trapped because he was between me and the door as he was yelling […] Mr. Luna refused to move from the front of the door and I had to squeeze between him and the door-jam to leave the office.”

In Sherrie Kuns-Fehlman’s complaint, that included unwanted touching and inappropriate comments, it states, “Sherrie Kuns then tried to exit the office herself. She tried to pass Mr. Luna on his left side but he blocked her movement with his body.” The day after their altercation, Mr. Luna called Kuns-fehlman into his office and used his position as her boss to intimidate her.

Coincidence? That will be for a jury to decide. The court date is set for April 19.

Shock Value

The articles that reached number four and five in popularity landed there for their entertainment and shock value.

The number four article was former Tulare County Supervisor Phil Cox getting caught on a hot mic calling the Visalia City Council a bunch of dumbasses. How did this happen to a seasoned politician?

My theory is that the microphones went on automatically at 9am sharp, but the meeting didn’t start until 9:02. Maybe it was because of the fog.

Maybe it is because the county’s clock runs a little fast. But it was during those two fateful two minutes that Mr. Cox spoke openly about how he felt about his future work buddies.

Whereas many people speak like this when they don’t think the entire world is listening, not everyone is an elected official.

It should be noted that Mr. Cox was critical of the city council just last year when running against Amy Shuklian while defending his supervisor seat.

His criticism of the city council came out in an editorial written for the Visalia Times-Delta.

He said that his supporters often asked why Visalia never had enough money to pay for what they need. This elicited some angry responses, such as Mayor Nelsen inquiring that if Tulare County was doing so great, then why was Mooney Grove such a mess.

Mr. Nelsen also corrected the record and said that Visalia’s finances are fine and the city has no problem paying its bills.

Point being, the hot mic incident wasn’t an aberration.

During one of the spring 2016 candidate forums, Mr. Cox said that he has been labeled as arrogant but implored that he really is not.

This might serve as a wake-up call because his comments in fact are.

The number five story of the year on Facebook was when SeaPort Airlines closed its doors in California in the space of a few hours on January 15. Even the employees were caught off guard. As commented on our webpage, “this whole thing came as a total shock. We were in business one day, the next gone.”

SeaPort even diverted a plane that left Sacramento for Visalia, stranding its passengers in Burbank.

SeaPort’s press release said that it was because of a shortage of pilots, but rumors spread that it was because the planes were repossessed by its lessors.

Whatever the reason, Visalia has always had a hard time retaining a commercial airline. As a result of past failed air service, and the dashed high hopes for SeaPort, Visalia City Council decided not to court another carrier. The Visalia Airport is still open for business but marketed for corporate, general aviation and air cargo.

Santa Claus Put a Lawsuit In My Stocking

Christmas season for us started a few hours after our Thanksgiving meal when Mercedes and I went to Michael’s Black Friday sale. It was a surprisingly enjoyable experience and it was nice to have some new decorations after enduring the culling of belongings that happens with two forced moves and a house fire.

Mercedes and I participated in the Visalia Holiday Home Tour for the first time and it will now be part of our regular Holiday repertoire. Besides the Christmas shopping and cookie baking, we went to craft fairs, Exeter’s Christmas home tour and downtown open house on Thursdays, and bought tickets to see the Olate Dogs at the Visalia Convention Center. The Valley Voice sponsored a family for Christmas through the Bethlehem Center and I loved having an excuse to go back to Toys R Us to buy gifts after a five year hiatus.

On Christmas Eve my youngest daughter tasted her first champagne, we had duck a la orange for dinner and a platter of pastries from Bothof Bakery for dessert. We finished our night opening one Christmas gift and playing couple rounds of charades.

And I almost forgot, we were treated to one more Christmas surprise. Right before our oldest daughter flew home from Oregon to celebrate the Holidays we were served.

My dad and his wife were suing us – for the fourth time in two years.

As the family historian, I have written seven family genealogies spanning over a 1000 pages covering my mom and dad’s side of the family. Nowhere has any family member ever sued another family member, especially a father suing his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.

Joseph and I had felt something brewing so we made a simple request through my dad and stepmom’s lawyer that they please leave us in peace over the Holiday season. They have disrupted every one of our Christmases since 2013 and we felt like our family deserved a break.

Obviously they did not.

Happy 2017!

Website:

  1. Tulare Hospital Board Discharges Entire Medical Staff
  2. Board’s Opponents Strike at Tulare Hospital District During Meeting
  3. Tulare Hospital Board Meeting Erupts in Controversy over $800,000 Loan
  4. Bob and Brenda Burke: Visalia’s Coolest Teachers
  5. Former Long-Time Grace Homes Employee Sues the Ministry
  6. Deal Gives HCCA Right to Buy Tulare Regional Medical Center
  7. Tulare Regional Medical Center: The Story of a Hospital’s Turnaround
  8. UPDATED: Surprises Continue at October Tulare Hospital Board Meeting
  9. Tulare Hospital Directors Facing Strong Opposition
  10. Grand Jury Releases Tower of Shame Report on Tulare Regional Medical Center

Facebook:

  1. Board’s Opponents Strike at Tulare Hospital District During Meeting
  2. Tulare Hospital Board Meeting Erupts in Controversy over $800,000 Loan
  3. Fatima Celebration
  4. Former Supe Cox Calls Visalia City Council “Bunch of Dumbasses”
  5. SeaPort Shuts Down Operations in Visalia, Other California Airports
  6. Grand Jury Releases “Tower of Shame” Report on Tulare Regional Medical Center
  7. Tulare Regional Medical Center: The Story of a Hospital’s Turnaround
  8. Tulare Hospital Board Member Facing Recall Effort
  9. Grand Jury Report Strikes At Tulare Regional Medical Center
  10. The Beautification of Small Town USA

Use your voice

Your email address will not be published.