CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. - San Leandro City Councilman Jim Prola was grinning with a hint of exasperation. “I'm not making this up,” he told man from Eden Medical Center assigned to keep the crowd at bay. “This is state law.” He might as well been talk about the Red or Blue Act since most people are as familiar with the Brown Act as they are about the intricacies of their own homeowners insurance.
The fifties-era law designed to keep public business open to, well, the public; has been so muddled and byzantine that it can be easily exploited. It is not clear whether the Eden Township Healthcare District and, by extension, Sutter broke any part of the law, but it surely made for an interesting subtext that highlighted the spirit of the law and the role of corporate bullying.
“We are formally requesting that you disperse immediately,” said the Eden official. The group of 30 hardy nurses and determined union reps were not interested in his announcement. The man, apparently exercising his marching orders struggled to answer the myriad questions emanating from all parts of the group.
Why can't we go in? What if we moved against the wall? Will they give us a report? Bring Carole Rogers out. The queries came quick and without answer. He saw a video camera hovering amongst the crowd and zeroed in. “Mr. Brannan, I've asked you already, please stop recording!” he told a union rep who continued to record the scene with his handy Flip camera. The refusal to cooperate, forced the official to stomp back to the board room, only to have District Director Carole Rogers appear minutes later. The registered nurse is widely viewed as the most fervent supporter for keeping San Leandro Hospital and quite popular with this group.
The wide-eyed, blond-haired member continually nodded with a knowing smile as former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young ticked off the alleged transgressions occurring. What could she do? She said the lawyers would not let them in.
“George Bischalaney just called and said he will call the sheriff if you don't leave,” Rogers said quietly as the group gathered close. Bischalaney is the CEO of Eden Medical Center and has at times been the public, yet reclusive face of Sutter in San Leandro. The group's groans turned to mockery as words passed from one to another. One woman, a Castro Valley resident named Sonya Howes said she wasn't surprised by the threat. "When I was president of the Democratic Club, we supported the nurses during their strike and I delivered a letter to [Bischalaney]," she said, "You would have thought I was a criminal. All the guards were talking into their radios. I thought to myself, my tax dollars helped pay for this place and this is how they treat me?"
Aside from the firm questioning, the group was anything but unruly. Other than three San Leandro City Councilmembers and one ex-mayor, the majority of the supporters were middle-aged nurses. Hardly, the demographic of Molotov cocktail-heaving anarchists. In fact, many eventually left before Rogers reemerged a few hours later, possibly to watch Wall of Fortune at 7 p.m, followed by Jeopardy!
By the time, all the board members and lawyers exited through the back door--with Dr. Walter Kran trotting at a noticeably quick clip--only about a dozen people remained to meet afterwards with Rogers as she offered leftover sandwiches and cookies from Togos. Ostensibly, the best way to calm this wild group is with a pastrami sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie—a far better meal than the bread and water they would have been served in the county jail.
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