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Public "right to know"

Original post made by Jack Hickey on Jul 25, 2013

Does the public have a right-to-know why a regularly scheduled meeting of a public agency is rescheduled? Apparently, not when that agency is the Sequoia Healthcare District (SHD) on whose board I serve.
On July 16, the SHD posted this on its website "The Regular Meeting of the Board of Directors of Sequoia Healthcare District scheduled for August 7, 2013 has been rescheduled to the following date and time: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 4:30 p.m." When first asked about the rescheduling, I asked why this was being considered, and suggested that the public has a right-to-know why "regularly scheduled meetings" are rescheduled. Board President Jerry Shefren then asked District counsel, Mark Hudak, to advise "...what the public has a right to know about why meetings are rescheduled." In a subsequent e-mail, Jerry stated that the meeting was being rescheduled "Because of others being out of town...". I asked why the other directors will be out-of-town.
Shefren responded "That is personal information and I do not feel it requires disclosure to you or the public in general. If you are aware of any specific laws that require disclosure please advise me of that information."
After another e-mail exchange the absentee directors turned out to be Art Faro and Shefren himself.
The schedule of regular meetings was distributed to directors on October 16, 2012. It has not yet been revealed when the out-of-town directors planned their conflicting activities, nor the nature of those activities.
Interested readers can view the e-mail thread at Web Link

Comments (10)

Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 25, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Here's one answer from Terry Francke of CalAware:

"Jack, you or anyone else has the right to see the communications from directors announcing their unavailability for the regular meeting. In the words of the Public Records Act, the nature of the conflict would not be an "unwarranted" invasion of personal privacy. You do not need a "specific law" making this information public* since, as the lawyer well understands, the burden runs the other way. The information is presumed public unless a "specific law" makes it confidential. These people are taking time off in a way that disrupts the plans and schedules of an unknown number of people. Had they given sufficient advance notice it might have been possible to stagger their absences to avoid disrupting their official schedule. The least they can do is explain why their personal plans take precedence over their public duties."

*missing from original


Posted by tilted windmill, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 25, 2013 at 6:37 pm

didnt u cover this last week?


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm

tilted, try viewing it from a different perspective. The Daily news did when they published my LTE in today's paper, giving it the title "Sequoia's meeting change mystery".

As a Member of the Board of Directors, I am often given information on sensitive issues, which is not available to the public. Why would the District deny my simple request for what is clearly "public information"?
That's the mystery!

My original query was made two weeks ago. The answers are incomplete. Yes, they did identify the directors whose out-of-town activities triggered the rescheduling. They have not answered the questions regarding the nature of the out-of-town activity, nor when they first new of the conflict.

As Terry Francke points out, "These people are taking time off in a way that disrupts the plans and schedules of an unknown number of people. Had they given sufficient advance notice it might have been possible to stagger their absences to avoid disrupting their official schedule. The least they can do is explain why their personal plans take precedence over their public duties."



Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm

In an attempt to solve the "mystery" of why the Sequoia Healthcare District has yet to divulge the facts behind the change in meeting date, I made the following request to the District CEO, Lee Michelson: "Lee, pursuant to the Public Records Act, I request records of communications from directors announcing their unavailability for the regular meeting on August 7, 2013, and ensuing communications which resulted in the rescheduling of the meeting."

I invite others, who believe that the Public has a "right to know", to question Directors Faro and Shefren on their actions in this matter. As Terry Francke said: The least they can do is explain why their personal plans take precedence over their public duties."


Posted by no there, there, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 28, 2013 at 6:37 pm

/snore


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 29, 2013 at 10:27 am

On July 16, I sent a copy of a tutorial entitled "Cancelling and Rescheduling Meetings" Web Link to President Shefren on July 16. Excellent reading!


Posted by Person, a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

For those, like Mr. Hickey, who find conspiracy in every shadow, this is apparently a big deal.

For the rest of us, we recognize that public officials have reasons to take time off that are really not of public interest and thus not really any of our business. Public officials have family emergencies, family reunions, deaths in the family, surgeries, family illnesses, weddings, vacations, etc. and the nature of those activities, unless they are within the subject mater jurisdiction of that public official, are not really my business. Please find something of actual value to focus your attention on, Mr. Hickey.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 30, 2013 at 11:10 am

The Sequoia Healthcare District has six Regularly Scheduled meetings each year. Directors receive a stipend of up to $1200/month in the form of health insurance premium reimbursement. That's $2400/meeting!

Board members Shefren and Faro, along with CEO Michelson ($182,611.55/year) found it convenient to reschedule the Regular August meeting to the 21st of the month.

"The least they can do is explain why their personal plans take precedence over their public duties."

The response to my PRA request added to prior knowledge produced the following timeline:

July 11

1:34 P.M. message from Lee to Janeene
"Jerry asked that you poll the board about how they would feel about moving the Board meeting to August 21st.I would appreciate your help with this. Thanks, Lee"
2:17 P.M. message from Janeene to Board:
"The August 7th meeting may need to be rescheduled. If so, please let me know your availability for Wednesday, August 21st at 4:30."
2:24 P.M. My response:
"The public has a right to know why "regularly scheduled meetings" need to be rescheduled. This should not be done unless absolutely necessary. Why is this being considered?"
2:41 P.M.
Response from Lee to Jack Hickey:
"We have 2 Board members that will be out of town."
3:47 P.M.
My response to Lee:
That still leaves a quorum. And, even if it didn't, I would favor having a meeting even if no action could be taken. There can still be discussion.
The public has a right to know which directors will be "out of town", and why.
4:01 P.M.
Response from Lee to Jack Hickey cc Jerry Shefren
"I will pass on these comments to Jerry."
4:10 P.M.
E-mail from Jerry to Jack Hickey with cc to Mark Hudak, Janeene and Directors
"Mark, please advise what the public has a right to know about why meetings are rescheduled."

July 15
9:46 A.M.
Lee Michelson sent e-mail to Jerry and unknown recipients
"As it turns out August 21 would be a better day for me also regarding Board meeting."
11:13 A.M.
Shefren responded to Lee with cc to Art Faro
"All board members can attend?"
12:03 P.M.
Janeene wrote to Jerry Shefren and unknown recipients
"The 21st at 4:30 is good with everyone (Jack has not responded to availability). Is the meeting being rescheduled to 21st? Please let me know as we need to post notice."
12:08 P.M.
Jerry Shefren responded to Janeene with cc to Lee
"email and call him again to see if you can get a response."
3:22 P.M.
Jack Hickey responded to Janeene with cc to Shefren
"I am available on the 7th. If absolutely necessary, I can make myself available on the 21st."
4:47
Shefren responded to Jack Hickey with cc to Janeene
"Jack, Because of others being out of town, I would really appreciate your being available on the 21st. I realized that is not optimal for you but your accommodation would ensure all of us could attend"
5:34
Jack Hickey responded to Shefren
"Jerry, I would like to know why the other directors are out of town."
6:17 P.M.
Shefren responded to Jack Hickey
"That is personal information and I do not feel it requires disclosure to you or the public in general. If you are aware of any specific laws that require disclosure please advise me of that information."

July 16
12:51 P.M.
Jack Hickey responded to Shefren
Jerry, disclosure of detailed personal information is not necessary, generic information will suffice. Who are the directors unable to attend the regular meeting? What type of other commitment is involved?
I suggest that you hold the regularly scheduled meeting on the 7th, and, if necessary, continue that meeting on the 21st.
If you are aware of any specific laws that prohibit disclosure please advise me of that information.
BTW: What advice did you get from Mark regarding the public's right to know why meetings are rescheduled.?"
1:42 P.M.
Jack Hickey sent the following to Shefren
Jerry, when did Director X, Director Y and/or Director Z determine that they were to be "out of town" on August 7? Perhaps a revised "Schedule of Regular Meetings" could have been approved at our last meeting. And, it occurred to me that if our CEO was not going to be "in town" for the meeting, you might want to reschedule. Some facts, please, to quell speculation. See: Web Link
ALSO included copy of tutorial on the subject of Cancelling and Rescheduling Meetings Web Link
3:45 P.M.
Shefren responded to Jack Hickey
"Thanks for the information."
July 23
12:18 P.M.
Jack Hickey to Shefren
"Jerry, I have not seen a response to my request. Let me rephrase the questions:
1. Which directors will be out of town and unable to attend the regular meeting?
2. What is the nature of the out of town activity.
3. When were they first aware that they would be unable to attend the regular meeting?
Absent answers to these questions, please agendize an action item for the next meeting to address the issue of Policy for cancelling Regular Meetings"
12:37
Shefren response to Jack Hickey
Myself and Art.

On July 25 I received the opinion posted earlier from Terry Francke of CalAware, which concluded with:

"The least they can do is explain why their personal plans take precedence over their public duties."














Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 30, 2013 at 11:16 am

Board Policy establishes the Schedule of Regular meetings:
POLICY NO. 6 BOARD MEETINGS: LOCATION, TIME, DATE, AND QUORUM
6.3 Regular meetings of the Board shall be scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and shall begin at that time or as soon thereafter as a quorum is present.
6.4 The regular meetings of the Board shall be held on the first Wednesday of even-numbered months, i.e., February, April, June, August, October, and December.

Board Policy provides a procedure for amendment or temporary suspension of Policies and Procedures.

A change in the Schedule of Regular meetings should require the following:

POLICY NO. 21 DEFINITIONS OF, AMENDMENTS TO, AND SUSPENSION OF POLICIES & PROCEDURES
21.1 By motion made, seconded, and approved by a majority of the Directors (as defined in policy 21.2), the Board may amend or temporarily suspend these policies and procedures in whole or in part.

The District did not follow the procedure. Action was taken to amend Policy, by changing the Schedule of Regular meetings.



Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:38 pm

At the August meeting of the SHCD Board of Directors, I read and submitted a copy of the following:
"We are meeting here today, two weeks after the regularly scheduled meeting by request of President Shefren. The reason given for the schedule change was that 2 Board members were out of town. That still left a quorum to conduct business on the Regular meeting date. It turned out that today was also a better day for CEO Lee Michelson.
District Policy calls for Regular meetings to be held on the first Wednesday of even numbered months. Notice of the meeting dates for 2013 was sent to all Directors and Staff on Oct. 16, 2012. Changes in Policy are normally made at meetings open to the public. The meeting should have been held on the regularly scheduled date, and then continued to today's date if necessary.
Had the 2 Directors (Shefren and Faro) given sufficient advance notice it might have been possible to stagger their absences to avoid disrupting their official schedule. The least they can do is explain why their personal plans take precedence over their public duties."

The silence was deafening!


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