The July 26 Tulare hospital board meeting could be better described as a large get-together — because it wasn’t a meeting, legally.
The meeting — lasting some six to seven minutes — was essentially dead in the water from the start due to a disagreement over whether Senovia Gutierrez was a member of the board.
Though Gutierrez was sworn in on July 25, there was no name card or seat for her at the Wednesday meeting of the Tulare Local Healthcare District. After some discussion, a chair was added for her — though board members Mike Jamaica and Kevin Northcraft were not present when the meeting started.
Board President Linda Wilbourn opened the meeting by explaining the confusion — stating that there were dueling legal opinions.
“Mrs. Senovia Gutierrez is here, and has taken the oath of office, however there are some legal opinions that are not agreeing as to whether the board has to certify in a special recall election,” Wilbourn said.
She introduced Gutierrez to the public, but stated that Gutierrez will be the representative of her zone — in the future tense.
“This is Mrs. Senovia Gutierrez, who will be the elected representative of Zone 3,” Wilbourn said.
Wilbourn called for Bruce Greene, attorney for Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) and the district, to weigh in.
“Because this was a special recall election, not a regular election, there is a question as to whether we have to certify this as a regular board agenda item — where it is on your agenda today is #2, as a chair announcement, it’s not in the body of the agenda,” Wilbourn said.
“What I’m going to do at this point is have our legal give me an opinion, and then I’m going to ask Mr. [Dennis] Mederos to come and give his legal opinion, who is the lawyer for Senovia Gutierrez,” she continued.
Michael Lampe, a local attorney, shouted from the crowd that under the premise that Gutierrez was not yet a board member, there was no quorum — Northcraft and Jamaica were absent, on purpose, to prevent a quorum from taking place.
“They’re not going to give you a quorum, Linda,”
“You’ve deliberately asked them to leave, is that true — you’ve deliberately asked them to leave, is that accurate?” Dr. Benny Benzeevi, CEO of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, asked Lampe.
“That is correct,” Lampe said. “Follow the law.”
Benzeevi asked Greene what happens with no quorum — and Greene stated the meeting should be adjourned.
“Then there’s a quorum,” Wilbourn said.
“But the meeting’s been adjourned,” Lampe replied.
“And this serves no purpose,” Wilbourn said. “I make my personal apologies to Mrs. Gutierrez. This has turned into a circus, and I am so sorry about that. We at this time will just adjourn the meeting. This served no purpose.”
Benzeevi stated that he wasn’t sure whether there would be a special meeting called to address some of the issues raised — and to continue the previously planned agenda.
“This is a board matter. We’re going to talk to the attorneys and see — we’re going to do the right thing by the will of the people. We’re going to do what is necessary — all of this could have been completely avoided by just following the procedure,” Benzeevi said. “Everything could have been fixed right now — but, of course, you know the bullying continues. The antics continue. It doesn’t impress anybody at all — all it does is harm real people, that’s all it does.”
Because Gutierrez, Northcraft and Jamaica believe that the law is on Gutierrez’ side, they have called their own special meeting.
The Voice was handed an agenda for a meeting at 6:30pm at the Tulare City Council chambers set for Thursday, July 27.
“This is being called by Senovia, myself, and Mike Jamaica,” Northcraft told the Voice.
It addresses a laundry list of items previously campaigned upon by Northcraft, Jamaica, and Gutierrez, and the Citizens for Hospital Accountability group, including ensuring that the hospital’s funds are not used to fund private lawsuits, an issue which came up when it was revealed that the district was funding a lawsuit against Dr. Abraham Betre on behalf of Dr. Benny Benzeevi, Dr. Parmod Kumar and Dr. Rebecca Zulim,
At the meeting, the trio intend to discuss:
- Rescinding a resolution allowing HCCA to engage and terminate legal counsel,
- Rescinding resolutions allowing HCCA to seek loans,
- Bruce Greene and BakerHostetler’s role as the board’s legal counsel,
- Appointing an interim Board General Counsel,
- A request to terminate public funding for private lawsuits,
- Orientation of current and new members of the board,
- Changing the time of meetings to be Thursdays at 6:30pm at the City Council Chambers,
- Rescission of the approval of the January 27, 2017 board minutes,
- Holding a special board meeting at 6:30pm on August 9, 2017 at the City Council Chambers.
In a statement to the Voice, Benzeevi stated that the move to prevent a quorum and quash the meeting was “a farce.”
“We’re very disappointed by the continued antics of a small group of people that is hellbent on destroying this community. They’ve done it before, and they’re doing it again. This is not a game — this is really serious business. This is really serious business,” Benzeevi said. “And the same antics have been used over and over again over the years, and the end result of this is going to be a catastrophe. We have got to get serious as a community. This is a farce. This is a joke. There’s real people that are getting treated in this hospital every single day. This is very disappointing. Very very disappointing.”
Mederos, Gutierrez’ attorney, said that Gutierrez had met all the legal requirements to be a board member: the election was certified, the certification was delivered to the district, and she was sworn in.
“She’s qualified, she’s the successor, she’s the board member,” he continued. “Now they’re taking the stance that the board has to certify the election. It’s the Registrar of Voters that certifies the election, not the board. The board’s requirement is they announce the election. [Section] 15400 says they are to announce the results of the election. There’s nothing in that code section that says she’s not a board member because they refuse to announce it.”
“They wouldn’t even allow her to sit as a board member until we had [a] discussion out there. And under the circumstances, the current president of the board appears to be doing whatever she’s told to do. And while Dr. Benzeevi may call this disgraceful, I view what they did there, in light of 81% of the vote for recall, 75% of the vote for Senovia Gutierrez — I find that appalling and disgraceful that they treated her at her first board meeting in that fashion. That’s horrible.”
“We’re evaluating [the path going forward], but it’s not going to last like it is very long,” Mederos said.
“I’ve been practicing in law for 39 years, and I thought I had seen just about everything, but I’ve never seen this level of bullshit,” Lampe said.