Harrell resigns from Tulare Hospital Board

Newly elected Tulare City Councilman Steve Harrell resigned his secondary position as a director of the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) effective January 31.

Resignation Avoids Possible Interest Conflict

The date of Harrell’s resignation matches that of a letter protesting his service on two boards from a Visalia-based attorney, who alleges holding both offices concurrently presents possible illegal conflict of interest. The resignation prevents a possible lawsuit to force Harrell’s removal. Legal experts familiar with the situation say there should be no or very little fallout for TLHCD, and none at all for the city of Tulare.

Prior to the announcement of his resignation via a letter from the TLHCD’s attorneys, Harrell declined to give an opinion on the matter.

“I can’t comment on it,” he said. “It’s now with the counsel for the district.”

Harrell could not be immediately reached for additional comment after news of his resignation became public.

Attorney General’s Opinion

Harrell and the TLHCD were alerted to the possibility that a conflict of interest existed in a letter from Visalia attorney Maggie Melo. The letter was delivered to the TLHCD on January 31, also the effective date of Harrell’s resignation from the TLHCD board.

In the letter, Melo cited an Office of the Attorney General opinion regarding a similar case of another California elected official who held two seats at the same time. The opinion, Melo says, also applies in Harrell’s case.

“In that opinion, there was a question asked by the attorney general whether a member of the Southern Mono Health Care District could also serve on the (city) council,” Melo said. “No, he could not.”

During his campaign for city council, Harrell said he conferred with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regarding the legality of holding both offices simultaneously and received their OK. Melo counters that the FPPC only oversees financial conflicts, and does not have authority in a matter such as this individual case.

“The FPPC doesn’t have jurisdiction,” she said.

Harrell Resigns Reluctantly 

Earlier this week, it was not clear how Harrell intended to address the objection to his holding both elected positions. On Monday, February 1, Harrell was considering his options, according to TLHCD Board President Xavier Avila, who also acted as campaign manager for Harrell’s city council campaign run.

“I had a chat with Steve this morning. I also had a texting chat with the attorney who sent him the letter,” Avila said. “My opinion is the opinion (cited by Melo) that lists where a city council member sat on a hospital board, that may not apply in Steve’s case. We’ll see. The dynamic might be different.”

Apparently not different enough. The resignation eliminates all possibility of a conflict, however it was not Harrell’s original intent. Moving quickly to avoid impropriety would also appear to be typical behavior of Harrell. Avila says Harrell specifically tried to avoid this eventuality.

“I served with him for four years now,” Avila said of Harrell. “He is the most honorable person with the most integrity in my life. He did a good-faith effort to find out if there was a conflict.”

No Fallout for City

Tulare City Attorney Mario Zamora says there should be no consequences, negative or otherwise, for Tulare.

“It won’t really affect the city too much,” he said. “The way that doctrine works–if it applies–the old position gets vacated. It would only affect his old position.”

That could mean when Harrell was sworn in as a member of the Tulare City Council, he also automatically vacated his seat on the TLHCD.

“You’d have to ask a judge at the Superior Court,” Zamora said. “The (attorney general) opinions are not binding. The big deal is if the duties significantly overlap. You don’t want conflict.”

Yet Melo maintains the AG’s opinion and the statues it cites leave no room for doubt.

“The law is very clear when it comes to what makes someone incompatible, that makes their loyalties split,” she said.

No Current City-TLHCD Crossover

Zamora said the only recent business involving both the city and the TLHCD was a loan the city extended to the district as it attempted to reorganize itself and reopen the city’s only hospital. The loan has already been satisfied.

“Other than that I can’t remember anything that involves the two entities,” Zamora said.

Melo believes Harrell holding both seats at once will also not be a problem for the TLHCD.

“By my reading of the statute, the decisions he has made when he was impermissibly on the board, they don’t have to be undone,” she said. “There has been no move to fill that position, so there he sits, and that necessitated sending the letter.”

Meanwhile, the TLHCD is now short one director. Avila said the board will appoint a replacement following a recruitment and interview process.

“We’ll probably announce something here pretty soon,” he said. “I know we have a special meeting next week.”

Ironically, it was the same midterm replacement process that made both Harrell and Avila directors for the TLHCD.

“That’s actually how Steve and I originally got on the board,” he said.

Both have since been re-elected to full terms.

In Depth: Tulare Regional Medical Center

16 thoughts on “Harrell resigns from Tulare Hospital Board

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  1. So doesn’t Mr. Avila also serve on two boards? The Tulare Cemetery District and the Hospital District? I wonder if that’s a problem, too?

  2. One is an elected position. The other is appointed. Not the same case as Mr. Stephen Harrell.

    Big question is whom wanted Mr. Harrell off of either board? Or just City Council? Whom is paying the bill from the Melo firm?

    Valley Voice have you checked into whom is paying the Melo bill?

    • I know its hard to believe because Maggie Melo and John Sarsfield are lawyers, but no one paid them to alert Mr. Harrell that it is against state law to hold both public offices. Melo and Sarsfield are first amendment lawyers and defend our democracy whether they are paid or not.

      The Secretary of State has rules about sitting on multiple boards, not just because of possible conflict of interests, but to improve our representative democracy and to increase the pool of residents making the nuts and bolts decisions for the towns in which they live. With no watch dogs or rules, a small group of well connected people could end up running the entire town to their benefit.

      If Mr. Harrell had defied CA Secretary of State, which no one expected him to do because he respects the law, then, it is possible that Melo and Sarsfield would have recouped some fees if they had to file a lawsuit.

      The work my late husband put into the Valley Voice was unpaid. He did it for the betterment of his community and for his love of Democracy. Not everything comes down to money.

      • Catherine, So the ValleyVoice has a roll to play in this ? How would you know who or who isn’t paying ? Why are you even speaking on it ? Are you a journalist or a activist?

        If Sarsfield and Melo are so concerned about democracy and who serves on boards illegally then why didn’t they go after Vicki Gilson for illegally serving on the cemetery board ? Why did you so vigorously defend her , when she clearly lives in another state . You mentioned you checked with an attorney about her . Would Sarsfield and Melo be the ones you talked too ?

        You can’t live in another state and claim your domicile is a empty house with no furniture and the water shut off , especially when you come back to visit driving a car with Missouri license plates . Where was the concern for democracy on that ?
        You slandered the chairmen calling him a peeping Tom for knocking on her door in broad daylight and asking the neighbors if she lived there , to which they all replied that she moved to Missouri. This is something you did yourself when a city council candidate was accused of not living in the city he was claiming to live in . You knocked on the door , peeked in the trash and asked the neighbors about him but you claim to be investigating.

        The Valley Voice used its position to intimidate and slander and person serving on a public board without pay . Do you realize that this contradicts you saying you want to increase the pool of residents making decisions? Why would good people get involved when the local paper uses its power to shame them ? Can you tell me how that helps democracy ?

        • You argument is “because someone else did something wrong, we should over look what this time”. That’s called “what-about ism.” Personally, I think you are lashing out because you yourself are serving on 2 incompatible boards (the hospital district and the cemetery board) and are expecting to get your own letter any day demanding you resign any day now. (or how as Mr. H. so oddly put it, “standing down.”)

        • There you go again! I suggest that you get over Vicki Gilson; she’s off the Cemetery Board of which you can thank Vander Poel for doing your bidding; she was sent packing. Why do you keep digging up bones (pun intended)? How very sad that you feel the need to publicly shoot down a widow’s personal loving and touching memory of her deceased husband and his values. You should know better.

          • Barbara. Your pun is insensitive of all the families who lost their loved ones . I was over Vicki breaking the law by illegally serving on the cemetery board once the BOS figured out the truth. However I’m always going to call out the hypocrisy by you and the Valley Voice for protecting Vicki for lying about her domicile. You should be embarrassed that you did that now that the BOS appointed someone else to replace her . It wasn’t an arbitrary decision on their part . You joined in the game being played by calling Steve Presant names for doing his job . The ValleyVoice tried to intimidate a pubic board by posting slanderous negative one sided articles in order to cover up the big lie being told . You should be ashamed of yourself. The results was a overwhelming majority of the people in Tulare could see right thought the lies being told . The ValleyVoice who did a amazing job on the hospital did a horrible job on the cemetery. They did their best to misinform their readers. Thank goodness people saw right though it . I’m never going to be silent about the lies being told . I will not be intimidated by a newspaper with a agenda. I don’t care what you or anyone else thinks of myself. 4 years ago the people of Tulare were complaining about the hospital, the cemetery and the City Council. I have played a direct role in fixing all 3 of those issues. I don’t need any approval from anyone. Expect me to speak up and to get involved when something is wrong in our town . I don’t care what people have to say about me . So you go have a nice day ! I actually like you but you are completely wrong on the cemetery

        • We know because, in the interest of due diligence, I asked. Our job as journalists is to provide the facts in a coherent narrative structure, not to ponder motivations. What you’re doing here is implying meaning and motivation where you cannot possibly have insight.

          The question then becomes: Why are you attempting to reframe this narrative into a fable with a moral? This is just what happened, who did what. There are no good guys and bad guys, just facts.

        • My prediction is that the attorneys are next going to go after Mr. Avila sitting on two boards and after that anyone else who is sitting on mulitple boards. It’s wrong that government/political power is concentrated in the hands of just a few. Let’s see how long Mr Avila fights them before he folds up the tent just like Mr. Harrell did.

  3. Here is another difference:
    The Tulare District Hospital Board does not manage our hospital. They leased it out to Adventist Health. So if either tge city or tge hospital sued one another the Board would nit be involved!
    Personally I believe this is smoke screen to draw attention from the upcoming court case involving Benzeevi’s co-horts. Thing were running smoothly and people were happy about the lack of drama going on. I smell a bug rat behind this!

    • What you’re saying is not correct. The hospital district is a governmental entity. It was created under state law to provide medical services for the Tulare region. As such, it is part of the government. The hospital board of directors are all elected, just like members of the Assembly, city council, etc. A few years back, the hospital board decided to shut down all day to day medical operations by the government employees and they voted to hand over operations to a private religious medical entity. But the governmental entity (the hospital district) still exists and is responsible to the public for providing medical care. It’s no different than if Tulare schools shut down and handed over education to a local religious school, or if the city shut down and did the same. It’s outrageous. That hospital was created specifically to provide health care, not to be a glorified landlord to a private, religious medical corporation. Anyone who voted to “give away” the hospital should be voted off the board.

  4. Well Xavier I must confess that I hadn’t quite thought of you in that way….. you know…. that you and you alone single handedly are responsible for making Tulare’s City Council, Tulare’s Hospital Board, and Tulare’s Cemetery Board so strong and successful. Sort of like the Wizard of Oz. Wow, that’s impressive. I truly had no idea. Take care of yourself…whatever would Tulareans do without you saving everyone from themselves. BTW I wish you would lighten up a bit and find a little more humor in life. I actually kind of like you too even though you keep digging up bones (referencing a Randy Travis’ song). Life is short, laugh more…. a sense of humor and laughing at one’s self helps to reduce stressors. lol Stay safe and healthy. 🙂

  5. Xavier Avila is in violation of AB 992 which into effect 1/1/2021. Xavier Avila is not impervious to a civil suit being filed for slander and defamation of character. Xavier Avila is an unprincipled bully and bigot.

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