Memorial Hospital Board Majority Votes to Keep Itself in Power
March 8, 2012
More than a dozen members of the public spoke Wednesday night at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital urging the board to put themselves up for reelection this November as a final touch to a redistricting process intended to empower the disenfranchised, but the board voted 3-2 to keep that three-person majority in power for another two years.
The divided board will submit a map to the California Department of Justice for approval, which will transition the board from an at-large body to a geographically representative one. Currently, four of the five board members live in what's slated to become District 4, comprised broadly of the Highway 68 corridor, South Salinas and Marina.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, along with labor groups and grassroots activists from a loose organization representing Latino interests known as "The Coalition," support placing all five seats up for reelection in 2012.
"The over-concentration of political power in District 4 would be unfortunate and unfair to members of the hospital district," said Alejo in a statement his aide read aloud. "Choosing any other combination of districts up for election in November 2012 will come at the detriment of the community."
But board members said they preferred continuity, rather than ushering in an entirely new team at once. And their attorney, Kimon Manolius of San Francisco-based Hanson Bridgett LLP cited concerns that preemptively cutting those terms was unprecedented: "I think that disenfranchises the people who voted for the people who are now serving out their terms," he said.
Board President Jim Gattis said that offering representation to a Latino voting bloc wasn't necessarily going to newly empower voters. "I've never seen The Coalition run a candidate," he said. "The candidacy was open, anyone could run for it. We chose to run, and we're elected to serve the voters."
Gattis, along with Deborah Nelson and Harry Wardwell are up for reelection in 2014. The DOJ proposal they submitted would allow them to finish out those terms, so three seats would still be occupied by one district in the newly drawn map until 2014.
At the attorney's recommendation, which was based on Latino population in each district, two districts that comprise most of urban Salinas would go out to voters this November. That leaves sitting board members Nathan Olivas, who lives in San Benancio Canyon in District 4, and Pat Egan who lives in East Salinas, without a shot to run because their districts won't again go out to bid until 2014.
Coalition members plan to submit a letter to the DOJ urging them to go a step further when considering the district lines and approve the plan with all five seats—or at least the seat representing South County—going before voters this November.
"All the power's concentrated in one district," says David Serena, the coalition member who pushed for the shift to district elections. "Everyone else is left without a voice."
The board was cool toward the idea of putting all seats up at once, concerned about losing institutional knowledge. "There are countless issues running this hospital in this economy that don't favor five new people," Nelson said. "I would not be in favor of putting all five seats up at one time."
Olivas agreed, but voted against the board's recommendation because he wanted to see South County included on the 2012 ballot. The election of five new members would be a disaster," he said. "I believe we've got to have some continuity on this board."
"That is such a lame argument," Serena says. "That is just like saying we shouldn't free the slaves because they can't take care of themselves."
Union representatives and members of the public threatened civil action or recall efforts against Nelson, Gattis and Wardwell, who voted in favor of preserving the remainder of their terms.
But the coalition will be satisfied even if only two seats are open this fall, and has no plans for a recall. "A recall might accomplish what we want to accomplish, but it takes a lot of money," Serena says. But he's willing to be patient and wait until 2014 if the DOJ signs off on the board's recommendation: "No matter what, we're going to win because we already forced district elections."