Political alliances and personal vendettas have reared their heads during the past several weeks, as board contenders continue to trade barbs regarding the district’s plans to move its health center into Keystone Pacific Business Park.
Seven candidates are vying for the three seats in the hotly contested race, and there’s no indication that the charged rhetoric will ease up between now and Tuesday, Nov. 2.
“This is not a sleepy little town,” candidate John Ramos said. “Everyone’s got opinions, and opinions are spoken.”
Del Puerto Health Care District, which took the place of the Del Puerto Hospital board when it closed in 1998, runs Patterson District Ambulance and the Del Puerto Health Center at Ward Avenue and Highway 33. Among its goals is to offer more health care amenities to the West Side.
Ramos, who owns the building at Ward Avenue and Highway 33 where the health center plans to vacate the building within the next year, has been the most vocal candidate in his opposition to the board’s current plans. He has accused the district of mismanaging finances, and he says he hopes to set up a 24-7 urgent care center to Patterson.
Ramos notes that the ambulance company and health center both had a deficit during the first half of this year.
He also says he wants to stop the district from having “secret meetings.” Open-government advocate CalAware previously accused the district of violating the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act by gathering as a group to view a potential site at the Keystone Pacific Business Park without notifying the public. The organization has said the district wrongly discussed the idea of buying a new facility at the Keystone Pacific Business Park while only notifying the public that it would discuss trade secrets regarding new facilities.
However, district representatives have defended some of those practices, saying they acted on the advice of their attorney.
Del Puerto Health District CEO Margo Arnold has taken issue with Ramos’ accusations, saying he has a conflict of interest because he holds the district’s lease of the Del Puerto Health Center building and stands to lose money when the center moves. She has taken out newspaper ads to defend the district’s position to counter ads put out by Ramos.
In addition, both Arnold and a candidate slate consisting of incumbents Ed Maring and Harold Hill and newcomer Linda Sandoval have vocally opposed the candidacies of Ramos, Mayor Becky Campo and former Del Puerto Health Center medical director Dr. Paul Berry.
Arnold said Ramos has misconstrued the district’s financial figures – it was actually was profitable as a whole last year,. In addition, she said, a 24-hour urgent-care clinic would create further financial hardship for the district.
Campo opposed the district’s move to Keystone in the past, saying it would violate city zoning laws, and she and other council members voted to reimburse Ramos for about $27,000 in legal fees he spent to appeal city staff’s approval of the health center’s move.
Berry was fired by district leadership in February 2006 after he had notified the district in December 2005 that he wanted either to renegotiate his contract or to resign the following April. He has since sued the district for $2 million and settled for an undisclosed amount.
Arnold said she normally would not get involved in campaigning, but she described candidates Ramos, Campo and Berry as destructive.
“It’s not the responsibility of the administration to get involved in an election,” Arnold said. “(But) these are extraordinary circumstances. I’ve seen what these individuals are all about, and I don’t want to see (the work of the district) destroyed because someone has got an agenda that doesn’t make sense to me.”
Candidates Maring, Hill and Sandoval have taken aim at Berry for other reasons, as well, noting that he now lives in Butte County and serves as a doctor at Oroville Community Hospital in Oroville. Campaign manager Sharon Reeves said earlier this month that Berry lives in Chico. He listed a home he is renting on Olive Avenue in Patterson as his mailing address on campaign paperwork he filed with the county, and Reeves said he would move there if elected.
Election laws require that health care directors live within the district they represent.
Berry did not return calls seeking comment this week.
Meanwhile, the candidate slate of Maring, Hill and Sandoval has kept busy making the rounds and collecting donations from various sources, including the developers of Keystone Pacific Business Park.
As of Sept. 30, the committee to elect the three candidates had accepted $5,594 in campaign contributions and had spent $4,695, the most of any campaign in the health care race.
Contributions came from various sources, including a combined $650 from Keystone Corp. and a combined $400 from Schut Insurances and its owner, Elwood Schut, whose son, Evan, sits on the health board.
It is unusual for health district candidates to run as a slate, but it also is unusual for so many candidates to express interest in the health district, Maring said. He and Hill chose to run with Sandoval because they think she is qualified and she shares their goals, he said.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been three candidates running at one time,” Maring said. “I’ve never seen so many people running for the board for so many different reasons.”
Contribution statements indicated that Ramos has raised all the money for his campaign by himself. His company, Ramos Investments, contributed $850 to his campaign between July 1 and Sept. 30, and he had spent $3,211, giving him a negative cash balance of $2,361.
Compared with their competitors, Campo, East and Berry have run quieter campaigns, and Campo and East both say they haven’t spent a dime on the election.
Campo said she wanted to avoid burning bridges during her campaign, as she did not know with whom she’d end up working if elected.
“I think my experience is what I’m counting on,” Campo said. “I really want to stay neutral.”
East has met with residents at local stores and restaurants and has gone door to door, asking people about their health care needs. Many people have asked her why other candidates are not asking residents similar questions, she said.
“This is just my style of leadership,” East said, adding that she planned to continue to solicit community input in a similar fashion if elected.
After an election season that has been anything but boring, Arnold said she looks forward to a return to normalcy.
“I’ll be glad when it’s over,” she said.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.