The article below was written and published before the publication of the Nov. 7 meeting agenda. That agenda is available at the end of this article.
Directors of the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) and the Tulare City Council will sit down for a joint meeting to discuss the future of the District at 6pm Tuesday, November 7.
While TLHCD President Kevin Northcraft welcomes the meeting, which will be held in the Council Chambers in the Tulare City Library, he isn’t sure why it’s being held. Yet, a joint public meeting with a goal of full disclosure is welcome, he said.
“Everybody, every public agency that contributes to quality of life should work together,” Northcraft said.
He believes at least one topic up for discussion will be the use of the Council Chambers for future meetings of the TLHCD Board of Directors. Earlier, at the request of Mayor Carlton Jones, the Council toyed with the idea of not allowing TLHCD to use the room. He cited incidents of violence.
“I suspect we may talk about the Council Chambers,” Northcraft said.
The Board used the room, which is available for any organization to rent, for a meeting in April. The rental was arranged by Health Care Conglomerate Associates (HCCA), the company that managed the District at the time.
“There was no discussion of problems,” Northcraft said.
‘They Don’t Like Us’
HCCA’s contracts with TLHCD were voided by a federal bankruptcy judge last month, prompting a suspension of services at Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC), TLHCD’s main facility. That could be the end of an ugly and intense battle between the company, TLHCD’s board and the public.
Jones, who is friends with former TLHCD director Dr. Parmod Kumar, testified about his relationship with Kumar as part of a lawsuit filed against former TLHCD directors by the former Medical Executive Committee at TRMC.
Kumar appears to have helped Jones hire a lawyer, according to the testimony he gave.
Jones also signed a letter to the California Medical Association defending the removal of the former MEC.
Jones and Councilwoman Maritsa Castellanoz both received campaign donations from HCCA and Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi, CEO of HCCA.
“It’s clear they didn’t want us to use their council chambers because they don’t like us,” Northcraft said. “I hope we’re beyond that.”
For several months, the City Council has been debating sending a letter to state and federal representatives asking them to contact the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) and request an audit of the District, especially how $85 million in bond funds intended to expand TRMC were spent.
So far, the Council has been reluctant to act, with Jones and Castellanoz providing the main opposition.
“I don’t think it would hurt to do that (send a letter), if it’s appropriate,” Northcraft said.
Jones maintains such a request would overstep the Council’s authority, despite having been approached repeatedly by citizens asking the Council to pen such a letter.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) contacted the JLAC requesting the audit of TLHCD.
Alberto Aguilar, a former member of the Bond Oversight Committee at TLHCD, has also been trying to get local legislators involved. He send two lengthy letters to Assemblyman Devon Mathis requesting he contact the JLAC. Aguilar said he received no response.
‘Owed a Favor’
Aguilar later met face-to-face by happenstance with Mathis at a holiday event in Tulare.
When he asked Mathis why he had not acted on his request for an audit, Aguilar says Mathis told him he could not. Mathis, Aguilar claims, told him he “owed Benzeevi a favor.”
Mathis denies he refused to act because of his relationship with HCCA and Benzeevi.
Asked at a recent town hall about his relationship with HCCA and Benzeevi, and why he did not act on Aguilar’s request, he avoided responding.
“What is the purpose of your line of questioning?” Mathis asked.
Mathis, at the time of Aguilar’s request, was working with HCCA and Benzeevi on assisting the Southern Inyo Hospital District in a deal with some similarities to Tulare’s.
That District has since started the process of parting ways with HCCA as well, claiming financial misdeeds.
At the time the incident was first reported, Mathis denied Aguilar’s accusation.
However, someone from Mathis’s office began a negative disinformation campaign against the reporter who authored the story and the Valley Voice, using a false name.
The Internet Protocol number for the comments was traced back to Mathis’s office.
“There are prior staff who have been fired,” Mathis said of the incident.
However, he still maintains a hostile relationship with the media. He appears to support the idea the public is being fed so-called “fake news.”
“If the press would actually print valid things these days, it would be quite fascinating,” Mathis said.
Mathis Denies Rape Allegation
A press release last month from American Children First, a right-wing, anti-immigration organization based in Torrance, accused Mathis of sexually assaulting an unconscious female staff member during a small gathering at a private residence. He denies any wrongdoing.
“I’ve already put out a public response,” Mathis said. “They’re [the allegations] false.”
Mathis said the rape allegation is politically motivated, a move by unknown enemies against him for unknown reasons.
“I’m in politics,” he said. “Politics can be very interesting at times, and people do and say anything to try and destroy somebody’s reputation.”
Let Bygones Be Bygones
Despite these unsettling alleged past acts, Northcraft says local leaders must put resentments behind them and work for the betterment of Tulare together.
At his recent town-hall style coffee meeting, Mathis spoke with Northcraft’s wife, Chris Northcraft, who implored Mathis to become involved now that HCCA and Benzeevi are out of the picture.
“He did seem more receptive to Chris’s comments this morning. Regardless of what’s gone on in the past, can you help us now?” Northcraft said of his wife’s message to Mathis. “He gave her a card and ways to contact him directly, so I will be following up directly with him. We’re dealing with state agencies continuously. There’s a lot of state interaction he could help us with.”
The last time Northcraft tried to work with Mathis’s office, the results were less than he had hoped for.
“I actually had lunch with one of his staff members six to eight months ago,” Northcraft said. “I never heard back anything.”
Northcraft’s request was for oversight of TLHCD and HCCA.
“I asked them to participate in getting an audit and hopefully an investigation into the questions we’d heard about the past and current administrations,” he said.
However, it may be difficult for those working with Mathis to take the assemblyman at his word. While he denied having a relationship with HCCA and Benzeevi, he later admitted to working with HCCA at the Southern Inyo Hospital District.
“I think he took credit for getting HCCA involved with South Inyo, something I think they now regret,” said Northcraft. “So, there’s some kind of relationship.”
While the main goal of Northcraft and his fellow TLHCD Directors is getting TRMC up and running again, they are still trying to track down where the bond money for the hospital expansion went. The past board, which hired HCCA, refused to provide an accounting.
“There was a forensic audit underway, and the board canceled it,” Northcraft said. “I think it was December of 2012, when [former TLHCD President] Sherrie Bell was elected.”
Those questions would likely be answered by a forensic audit of the District’s and HCCA’s books, past and present. Northcraft says the Tulare City Council and Mathis, by requesting JLAC involvement, could aid that process immensely.
“There’s a lot of concern about what happened to the $85 million,” he said. “Was all that money spent correctly on the tower? Why wasn’t that tower completed?”
The joint meeting of the Tulare City Council and the TLHCD Board of Directors will be held at 6pm, Tuesday, November 7, in the Council Chambers at the Tulare City Library, 475 North M Street.