Board rejects Jim Stieringer’s application for district staff job. Now Stieringer, who retired Friday, asks for his Board seat back--but his future remains in limbo
November 11, 2010 (La Mesa)—Grossmont Healthcare District Board member Jim Stieringer resigned Friday “in order to be considered for appointment to the Project Liaison Monitor position,” he stated in a letter to Board President Gloria Chadwick. But after questions arose about the propriety and legality of such a move, Stieringer’s application for the $60,000 job was rejected by the Board after a closed-door meeting. He now wants his $6,000 a year Board seat back. But the Board and its legal counsel have yet to determine whether or not it can or will comply.
The District advertised the staff job in the San Diego Daily Transcript and on the District’s website, but not in other local media, nor were subscribers to a District newsletter notified of the opening.
“I am extremely disturbed that the GHD has been secretly looking to fill the position,” Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight Programs, a watchdog group, stated in a letter to Grossmont Healthcare District chief executive officer Barry Jantz. “It’s strictly against the rules of propriety of conflicts of interest.”
Lutz believes hiring Stieringer to fill the staff position would be illegal. He cited a publication by the California State Attorney General, which states that “once the board member retires, the district may enter into an employment contract with the former board member, so long as no discussions concerning such employment took place between the board member and his or her colleagues or staff prior to the date of retirement.” Lutz added, “He absolutely did know.”
Citizens' Oversight has posted documents related to this issue on its website at http://www.copswiki.org/Common/GrossmontHealthcareBoard, along with a video of Lutz' testimony before the board.
Jantz agrees that hiring Stieringer could raise potential issues of transparency and conflict of interest, but said the Board was well aware of such issues even before Lutz raised them.
“The Board asked for a closed session yesterday. As soon as everyone understood that Director Stieringer had retired and submitted an application, members immediately said `Let’s have a closed session and get legal counsel,” Jantz told East County Magazine in a phone interview this morning. “We are completely aware of the increased watchdogging going on in the media,” he said, adding that it would be unrealistic :”for anyone to think that there could be some orchestration of a board member getting a position and that no one would notice.”
That said, Jantz indicated that the Attorney General rule cited by Lutz may apply only to an elected board member applying for an appointed position, not a staff position hired through personnel procedures by the District. He said that recently in National City, a city council member resigned and was hired as Fire Chief. “That apparently was legal, so I think the whole question of whether you can or can’t is open to interpretation.”
Jantz has now been directed to include the Projects Liaison Monitor position as part of an ongoing program management team in preparation for Prop G projects at the hospital. The position may be contracted, rather than an employee job, he noted.
Jantz took issue with Lutz’s assertion that the position could simply remain vacant and that he should be able to manage the workload single handedly. “We’ve finished so far a $41 million project and we’re about to now start on another $180 million of projects, three of which will be happening almost simultaneously,” Jantz noted. “You don’t go from $41 million to $180 million worth of work without increasing your administrative staff, though it may be contracted, not district staff.”
He said the job was advertised in the Daily Transcript because the publication is where construction positions are usually advertised. But he called Lutz’s proposal for the District’s e-mail list to be notified “a solid recommendation” and said broader notice will be provided for future positions.
Jantz praised the board for its oversight. “We stand by what we did and the Board has taken appropriate action,” he said, adding that what happens next remains in limbo.
The next regularly scheduled Board meeting is November 19, but a special meeting may be called earlier to consider Stieringer’s request to rescind his resignation. Legal counsel is currently reviewing the request to determine the Board’s legal options—but for now, Stieringer is off the Board.
If the Board declines to accept Stieringer’s request to rescind his resignation, the vacancy would likely be filled by the Board appointing a successor. If the Board fails to do so, the Board of Supervisors could appoint a new member or call a special election. Due to cost concerns, filling the slot by appointment (if Stieringer’s resignation stands) would be highly likely, Jantz confirmed.
If the resignation stands, one point is clear. “Resigned Board members are not allowed to reapply,” Jantz revealed, adding that legal counsel has informed the Board that California law stipulates that an elected official who resigns cannot apply for the vacancy.
Whatever the outcome, Jantz predicts, “I would fully anticipate that we have a can of worms on our hands either way.”