In a report released on May 10, the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury found that the Oak Valley Hospital District violated Brown Act meeting laws in 2010.
The Ralph M. Brown Act states that meetings of public bodies, such as the hospital’s governing board, must be “open and public” and actions may not be secret. The Act requires any discussion of business to be conducted in a public meeting format attended by a majority of the legislative body members.
The Grand Jury’s investigation established that the hospital district’s board violated the act by not following its public agendas, how their public meetings were conducted, releasing confidential closed-door meeting information, and discussing board related information via email.
The report also states that the district’s current governing board of directors corrected the meeting law violations before and during the course of the investigation.
In a statement released by the Oak Valley Hospital, officials state, “The district is mindful of its obligations to comply with the Brown Act and will continue to make adjustments to public meeting agenda preparation and methods for providing public input opportunities,”
During the November 2010 elections, Wendell Chun, Dan Cummins, and Louise Sanders ran as a slate for reform, pointing out that the seated board at the time was not conducting business in public and had poor communication with the district’s community.
The Grand Jury’s report stated, “…meeting agendas and meeting minutes implemented by the newly elected district board dated January 2011, appear to be in compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act.”
Chun, a former superintendent of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District, said that he had concerns of Brown Act violations during his campaign.
“The Grand Jury got it right,” said Chun. “My position has been public business should be done in public.”
Chun currently serves as the governing board’s president. He said he regularly reviews the upcoming meeting’s agenda with CEO John Friel at least a week prior to the scheduled meeting to ensure propriety of the posted agenda. Chun stated he has a thorough understanding of the Brown Act and has all intentions to follow it.
The Grand Jury acted on a complaint filed in June 2010, alleging the Brown Act violations and other accusations of misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. During their investigation from September to December 2010, the Grand Jury determined additional investigations were warranted into the new hospital construction and bid process, the construction costs and accounting, and CEO non-business related expenditures.
Though they found no evidence of financial misappropriation, bid manipulations, conflicts of interest, or discrepancies in financial reports, the Grand Jury did note that the hospital did not adhere to established bid proposal guidelines by a premature awarding of a redesign construction project and inadequate public notice regarding a change from an original to a revised plan of the construction project. The Grand Jury also felt there was limited involvement from legal counsel, which appeared to have contributed to the Brown Act violations.
In its prepared statement, hospital officials stated that the Grand Jury investigated a “diverse list of allegations by a single complainant.” The statement also asserts “all of the serious allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.”
Oak Valley Hospital CEO John Friel was out of town and unavailable for comment.The governing board of directors has not yet determined whether to schedule a special meeting of the board to discuss the report or whether it will be addressed in a regularly scheduled meeting.