By Steven TavaresCASTRO VALLEY, Calif.- Over thirty supporters of saving San Leandro Hospital, including three San Leandro council members and a former mayor were denied access to a meeting of the Eden Township Healtcare District at Eden Medical Center.
A spokesperson for the District notified the group that no public session would be held shortly before it was scheduled to begin. District Director Carole Rogers said later the board was overruled by legal counsel and not allowed to vote on whether to allow the public to comment before entering a closed session.
The agenda for the special meeting was posted just over a day ago and references an "executive session" followed by mention of "no public session", yet oddly includes a header asking for those to comment to request it from the chair.
"They can go into an executive session, but there is always a public portion of the meeting, usually at the beginning where you can hear public commentary," said David Brannan of the California Nurses Association, "To have a public meeting of elected officials without any public access is scary."
San Leandro City Councilmember Jim Prola, who routinely deals with the rigors of open government, urged district officials to comply with the Brown Act, the often cited state law that encourages open access to public meetings.
"It is Sutter's intention to be against the will of the public," Prola said. "They realize they are losing the battle and they are worried the public has had some influence with this board and this is why we are being shutout tonight."
Shortly after the meeting's scheduled 5:30 p.m. start, Rogers emerged from the board room to alert the group that Eden Medical Center CEO George Bischalaney had threatened to summon a sheriff to the hospital if they did not "disperse." By all accounts, the group was far from unruly. Included were council members Joyce Starosciak, Michael Gregory and Prola along with former Mayor Shelia Young.
Meanwhile, behind closed doors, the Eden Township Healthcare District agreed to enter non-binding mediation with Sutter Health to resolve questions over their bid to purchase San Leandro Hospital. During the last District meeting Aug. 18, legal counsel invoked the notion of dispute resolution contained in the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding signed by Sutter and the District.
"It was pretty clear at the last board meeting that they were rejecting it as a way of moving ahead," said Brannan. The board voted 3-1 to block Sutter's option to purchase the hospital.
Rogers confirmed that she has accepted a role on the mediation committee and said another director, Dr. Walter Kran, was asked, but has not yet accepted. By entering into non-binding mediation, any firm decision on the fate of San Leandro Hospital will likely be pushed forward. If the past is any indication, the non-binding aspect of the deal may afford Sutter the opportunity to negotiate while pushing through its stated plan to lease the facility to the Alameda County Medical Center.
"I think it is typical of Sutter to use the heavy-handed approach," said Prola, "They do not care what the citizens of this community think. They only care about their own bottom line and their way of calming the public is to shut them up."
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