Phil Smith will transition from a Tulare Local Healthcare District board member to the district’s new CEO, after his fellow board members voted 3-0 to appoint him as a replacement to Sandra Ormonde.
Smith recused himself from the selection, and the seat previously held by Senovia Gutierrez was empty after her resignation and temporary relocation for work.
Board Chair Kevin Northcraft said the district received 23 applications, conducted six interviews and that he was very impressed with the quality of candidates. Four of five could have easily filled the position “and Phil was certainly in that group,” said Northcraft.
Northcraft said that the position “will fit well with his career aspirations, and he has a passion for the district.”
He added that Smith’s appointment will make for a smooth transition because he knows the inner workings of the district.
Tulare resident Lisa Dillon spoke during public comment saying that she understood Smith was a very qualified man but questioned the selection.
“Wasn’t there anybody else?” she asked. “Wasn’t part of your prerequisites an accounting degree?”
Northcraft said Smith had the financial experience the district was looking for.
Josh Yeager, a reporter for the Visalia Times-Delta, asked the board to address concerns about the conflict of interest “or sort of a revolving door,” referring to board members getting high paying jobs at the district.
“I was misquoted by the Valley Voice. I was directly asked by Dave Adalian about a rumor that we might have a board member and I specifically said, my exact words, ‘I can’t comment on that,’” Xavier Avila, the board’s secretary, said.
In the article, Avila gave Adalian the impression that the rumor to name one of their own to the CEO position was false.
Adalian wrote in the October 22 article: Were the directors to make such a decision, Avila said they would only do so after consulting advisors and legal counsel to avoid conflicts of interest or other illegal outcomes.
“Let’s say hypothetically (the board voted to appoint a current director as CEO), we’ve had really good people present options to us regarding all our moves,” Avila said. “We wouldn’t do anything unethical. Our attorneys wouldn’t allow us to do that.”
Yeager asked the board again to address the public’s concern about conflict of interest.
“Well, I am,” said Avila. “After that I asked him hypothetically if we were to do that, ‘What’s the problem?’ and he said hypothetically there would be a conflict of interest if that board member sat in and interviewed another candidate. And that’s where I told him, ‘We are not that stupid. We are smarter than that.’”
Yeager repeated his question a third time requesting the board address the issue of conflict of interest.
“We went through the process. The fact that a board member was sitting and applied for the job – to say he couldn’t apply because he is on a volunteer position and couldn’t further his career, that seems unfair to him,” Northcraft said.
Northcraft continued, saying the board held six meetings to decide on Ormonde’s replacement.
“It certainly does not set up an advance sort of thing,” he said.
Suspicions that the decision was in fact a done deal swirled during a TLHCD board meeting September 24, two days after Ormonde announced her resignation.
Tulare Resident Patricia Drilling Phelps was one of several people who voiced their concerns during the special meeting that possibly a board member was going to be hired during closed session and the “meeting was hastily put together.”
The closed session item — Discussion and Action on public employee appointment of Chief Executive Officer — attracted comment from community members that accused the board of acting secretively.
Senovia Gutierrez agreed that the current board was “not like Kumar and Benzeevi,” but stated that the board can’t allow themselves to be seen in that light either.
“We can’t start acting like them,” she said, adding the public wants to see the process of selecting a CEO and see the interviews of those the board picks.
“We have triggered those memories,” she added.