BILL TO EDEN DISTRICT REFERS TO SUTTER EMPLOYEE AS AUTHOR OF BOARDMEMBER'S DEC. 'LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY'
By STEVEN TAVARES
The afternoon before the release of Eden Township Healthcare District boardmember Dr. Rajendra Ratnesar's contentious "Letter to the Community", the District CEO and media relations consultant conferred over a draft appearing to be attributed to a Sutter Health employee and not the then-chair of the board, according to an invoice for services charged to the District.
The invoice lists services rendered on Dec. 7 which references a meeting with Eden Township Healthcare District CEO Dev Mahadevan and the District's media consultant Jonnie Banks regarding a letter attributed to Cassandra Clark, the project communications director for the Eden Hospital reconstruction. The item on the invoice reads: "Mtg w/Dev Mahadevan re: Cassandra's DRAFT letter to the community."
The very next day, Dec. 8, various media outlets received the piece titled, "An Open Letter to the Community: Straight Talk about the Future of our Hospitals" purportedly authored by Ratnesar. The press release initially was sent under the District's letterhead, which Banks said at the time, was a mistake, while another District Director Carole Rogers made it clear through a flurry of emails that the letter was not the opinion of the entire board. State Sen. Ellen Corbett also criticized the letter in her own press release saying Ratnesar was attempting to split the communities of Castro Valley and San Leandro over the issue of the two hospitals.
Ratnesar, in an email Monday afternoon, says he wrote the letter shortly before a trip to Australia and sought the help of Clark to make corrections. "I asked Cassandra Clark to edit the letter and forward the letter after I had approved the correction to Mr Mahadevan to be sent to the community," wrote Ratnesar.
Clark told The Citizen she spent about five minutes on the draft and "changed a few commas here and there." Clark says she has helped Ratnesar with correspondences in the past. She said their friendship goes back two decades and agreed to help "not in the capacity of her job at Eden."
Questions about the invoice were first raised during a Jan. 14 District meeting whose agenda listed only a closed session. During public comment period, Rogers asked about the existence of the Dec. 7 item insinuating Ratnesar's letter may have been written by a Sutter employee. According to the unapproved minutes of the meeting, the subject was "tabled" until Mahadevan, who was absent, returned Jan. 21.
Mahadevan told The Citizen the consulting fee should not have been charged to the District, but instead to Ratnesar. Banks also confirmed the reworking of the invoice to be presented to the board for approval Wednesday night. Clark says she never sought to be compensated for editing Ratnesar's letter and said the "assumption is absolutely false."
Clark has been involved in handling the media inquiries regarding the construction of the rebuilt Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and has been instrumental in instituting aspects of new social media techniques to cover the rebuild with a blog on the Sutter site. Click here to see an interview with Clark, then Phelps, on a local newscast.
Sutter spokesperson Stacey Wells, though, said, "Cassandra is not a Sutter Health employee but a part-time, temporary employee of Eden Medical Center." The hospital conglomerate has said the same about Ratnesar in the past, who many in the nurses union have long charged with being too cozy with Sutter. In June of last year, Ratnesar suffered a litany of catcalls from members of the audience charging a conflict of interest. Afterwards, Ratnesar said, "In my conscience, I do not believe I have a conflict of interest." At various times, supporters of saving San Leandro Hospital have attempted to stir up action to recall Ratnesar, which never fully materialized.
The CiTiZEN FILE on....RATNESAR AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST
>>>Entire Eden Board Advised of Conflict of Interest, June 11, 2009.
>>>Rogers: This is Not the Opinion of the Board, Dec. 8, 2009.>>>Ratnesar's Letter Ignites Firestorm of Responses, Dec. 8, 2009.
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