The Californian: Editorial-Ailing SVMH board needs new direction

NewsMarch 19, 2012

Opinion, The, Mar 16, 2012

Following a stinging audit of how Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System’s board of directors conducts the public’s business, board president Jim Gattis should rethink his opposition to putting his seat up for an electoral-district election in November.

It could be voters are now in the mood for a change.

Overshadowed by the 82-page report released last week by the California State Auditor’s office was a vote taken by the hospital board that put two seats of the five-member board out for re-election. In a 3-2 vote, the majority — Gattis, Harry Wardwell and Deborah Nelson — decided that two seats should be placed in electoral zones — just not theirs.

The seats the trio put up for re-election belong to Pat Egan and Nathan Olivas — board members who have often been at odds with the majority.

The board OK’d the plan to move to district elections last month. Until now, the directors were elected on an at-large basis. Moving to five individual electoral zones within the hospital district provides greater representation by “communities of interest” — including Latino voters — in the eyes of the U.S. Justice Department.

Gattis has said he opposes putting his seat up for re-election two years early because he does not want to disenfranchise voters who elected him. We question who he thinks those voters are. During last week’s meeting, the crowd vocally called for all five seats to move to electoral-district election this November. They were ignored by Gattis and the two other like-minded directors.

Among the attendees was David Serna, who heads a group of Latino activists in Salinas. Serna said he planned on contacting the Justice Department to inform it of last week’s vote. Other critics in the audience reportedly threatened recalls and legal action.

Common sense would dictate that the last thing the beleaguered health-care system would do is invite a federal voting-rights lawsuit. But that is exactly what Gattis, Wardwell and Nelson may be doing.

Allowing voters to weigh in on the board’s performance by putting all five seats up for re-election this November is the responsible thing to do. We urge Gattis, Wardwell and Nelson to reconsider their position, and allow the healing to begin.