Special meeting scheduled after board dispute, TLHCD to review leasing Evolutions – appoint new board member

Update: Tulare Local Health Care District Board of Directors Meeting, 6:30 Tuesday, November 23, in the Evolutions Plaza Conference Room, 1425 E. Prosperity Ave., Tulare

Although a public dispute between directors of the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) over the possibility of renting out a portion of Evolutions Plaza to the Veterans Administration brought their last business meeting to a premature end, members of the board will review the VA’s new offer during a hastily called meeting to be held Tuesday, November 23.

No Special Meeting Agenda Yet

The extra meeting was announced Friday, November 19, by Board President Kevin Northcraft, and it marks an unexpected reversal on his part. At the board’s previous meeting–just two days earlier on November 17–Northcraft said he had “no interest” in hearing details of a new proposal from the VA, as the board already rejected a similar lease offer, and he refused to meet with the VA representatives.

Northcraft explained his change of heart regarding the VA is intended to honor the wishes of his fellow board members.

“I don’t like one person to determine for the whole board,” he said.

With a minimum quorum of three members at the most recent meeting, unanimous agreement among TLHCD board members was required to conduct business, and so in blocking a meeting with officials from the VA Northcraft apparently angered Board Secretary Xavier Avila. Avila responded with an apparent tit-for-tat.

Following a brief, somewhat heated exchange with Northcraft and TLHCD legal counsel Jason Howard–during which Avila and TLHCD Vice President Mike Jamaica both expressed a desire to hear details of the VA’s offer–Avila left the meeting, knocking furniture out of his way as he left, and announcing he would not attend an already scheduled special meeting, also set for November 23.

In refusing to attend the originally planned special meeting–during which three applicants for the vacant District 3 seat were to be interviewed–Avila made it impossible to appoint a new board member ahead of the looming December 1 deadline. Both the District 3 seat and the VA’s new lease offer will now be discussed at the special meeting.

The time of the meeting will be announced when the agenda is made public. Previous special meetings of the TLHCD board have taken place at noon and at 6:30 p.m. at Evolutions Plaza, 1425 E. Prosperity Avenue.

Conflicts of Interest a Possibility

While Northcraft and Avila have agreed to allow the November 23 meeting to take place with both the VA and District 3 issues up for discussion, an unusual pair of possible conflicts of interest could arise.

One of the candidates for the District 3 seat–Marmie Fidler–co-owns Barnes Memorials, a business that holds an exclusive contract to place headstones at the Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD). Avila also serves as chairman of the TPCD governing board, which oversees the Barnes Memorials contract. The contract was awarded nine months ago at the February 25 TPCD meeting in 4-1 vote. Avila voted to approve it.

While there is no indication Avilia intends to exert undue influence over Fidler, his control over the Barnes Memorial contract with the cemetery district he helps oversee creates the possibility Avila could sway Fidler’s votes on TLHCD issues, perhaps even unintentionally.

Northcraft said TLHCD legal counsel hasn’t addressed the possible conflict.

“The attorney so far has not commented,” he said.

Tulare County’s Office of the County Counsel, which provides legal services to the cemetery district, has yet to respond on short notice to a request for comment on the situation. If County Counsel responds, their comments will be included as an update to this article.

‘It Doesn’t Look Good’

Northcraft admits the optics of a possible financial conflict of interest are poor.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said. “The appearance is bad.”

That may be why recently appointed District 1 Director Phil Smith–who reportedly intended to resign his seat effective Friday, November 19, to assume the job of CEO of the TLHCD–put off his departure from that role for a week.

Avila’s possible conflict of interest in considering the appointment of Fidler to a seat on TLHCD’s governing board would be avoided if he recused himself from participating, though it would not remove the chance his oversight of the Barnes Memorials contract could influence decisions Fidler made on the hospital district’s board. But, such a recusal would leave the board without the three-person quorum needed to conduct business.

If Smith attends the November 23 meeting, a quorum can be maintained in the event one of the other board members absents himself from the discussion. Smith’s participation in board action following his acceptance of the CEO position, however, presents its own problems.

Hiring the Boss

When asked, Northcraft was uncertain about Smith’s plans to attend the November 23 meeting.

“I don’t know about Phil, but the three of us (he, Avila and Jamaica) will be at the meeting on Tuesday,” he said.

Yet he seemed to know why Smith postponed his resignation from the TLHCD board.

“In case we need a majority now for a special meeting,” Northcraft said.

The same expertise that won him the CEO position would also serve the board as it considers a possible long-term lease at Evolutions Plaza with the VA.

“There are items on the agenda he may want to participate in,” Northcraft said. “The VA, he has a background in development.”

Smith, in any case, may not be able to help maintain a quorum while the board interviews the candidates for the District 3 seat. Doing so would mean Smith was helping select one of the people responsible for overseeing his future employment with the TLHCD, and that may present a glaring financial conflict of interest too big to overlook.

In Depth: Tulare Regional Medical Center

9 thoughts on “Special meeting scheduled after board dispute, TLHCD to review leasing Evolutions – appoint new board member

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  1. Hasn’t Smith *already* participated in selecting the successor members while he was angling for/negotiating his own CEO job?

  2. Today’s new VV article does a good job at addressing the possible conflict of interests of both Phil and Xavier, Board members on the Tulare Local Healthcare District.

    It is also exactly what Sarsfield and Melo eluded to when they contested Xavier being on two boards (Chair of Tulare Cemetery and Secretary at TLHD) and the possible conflict of interests that could arise. Why has the CA AG not reviewed this nor the TC BOS or the TLHD attorney and Cemetery’s counsel? Maybe people in positions to act just don’t care that much about addressing possible conflicts, I hope that’s not the case. Conflicts should always be taken seriously to try and avoid illusions of preferential treatment or personal gain. We, as a Tulare community, organized and fought to reject this approach. Now the situation is more complicated and the future of where the TLHD is to go hangs in the balance. Our TLHD mirroring the examples of the last few years at the Tulare Cemetery District would be devastating.

    • Alex
      I don’t make any money or gain any value of any kind for service on both boards . You also know that I do not accept the $100 stipend per cemetery board meetings . The TLCHD Attorney all ready told me I have no conflict at all . You keep trying to make a connection with the old board . How do I and the other board members even compare? We don’t. Not one of us has gained anything in any way from our service. Also don’t just make wild accusations with out backing it up with proof. Can you point to one thing the board voted on the was a personal benefit to us ? The answer is you can’t but please try

    • You know a lot about toilet issues it seems. More of a pot calling the kettle black. Shame? Et tu LindaLoo perhaps?

  3. Why in the world is there a monopoly allowed in the gravestone business? Please reply. I have no idea why.

    • Van Hallman
      The reason why the cemetery only allows one company to do the headstones is because of quality issues. The business is between the monument company’s and the paying families. The cemetery regulates who can set headstones at both cemetery’s. The cemetery makes no money off these transactions. Contractors need to be licensed and bonded etc . We have rules to follow . The thickness and quality of the concrete , size etc . We were having some issues with quality and placement. Lots of off aliments , the stones were not lining up straight. Barn’s was the only company that followed the rules . They were the only company that placed the headstones exactly where they belong. They use a long string that runs across the entire section to insure its straight. They used the right amount of concrete. The cemetery staff was to busy to police the work of the other company’s . The groundsman said that barns did excellent work. The final point of frustration was when one company put a head stone out into the row where the mowers go . Barns offered to straighten out all the crooked headstones. Barns has to give the cemetery a price list , so the cemetery can compare prices from barns with other good companies to make sure they do not price gouge . Barns sets veterans headstones for free . Barns has a stellar reputation. The cemetery did this to protect the families from below standard work and to keep all the rows of headstones nice a straight. Some other cemetery’s only allow one company for the same reasons , so this arrangement is not unusual. Many companies may be cheaper but that’s because they cut corners that may result in a cracked headstone in a few years . I hope this answers your question

      • Excellent comments Xavier besides most if not all Tulareans love and respect Barnes Memorial not just for their good work ethics and exceptional products but because they are good people who love this town. One gets as good as they give and Barnes earns everything they receive.

  4. There is no contract with Barnes and the cemetery. The cemetery regulates who can set headstones. We chose to allow only one . That’s it . The ValleyVoice should get accurate information before the publish their work . Maybe you should let Tony Maldonado write about the hospital. He does a good job

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