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Clinicas ready to address conflicts

April 26, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — The Clinicas De Salud Del Pueblo board says it is ready to address concerns over any conflicts of interest that may exist among some board members.

During a meeting Thursday, the board voted to schedule a special session for Wednesday to take action on the conflict of interest matter.

Esperanza Sykora, interim director of Clinicas, told the board she has received a letter from the agency's Sacramento-based attorney that addresses the issue.


As of Thursday the letter had not been presented to the board and Sykora declined to provide the Press a copy or discuss the letter publicly. She said the contents of the letter will be made public when the board meets Wednesday.

While board members had not seen the letter when they discussed the issue, the majority did say they will abide by the attorney's findings and are prepared to act on the issue.

The debate over conflicts of interest among some on the board arose in recent months based on allegations made by employees angered at the board's handling of the agency's management.

The chain of events that led to Thursday's meeting included:

· Louis Lerma, who led the agency for 19 years, announced in February that he would resign effective March 29.

· The board formed an ad-hoc committee to work on the search for an interim director and permanent director. That committee named Brawley-area consultant George Thomas as interim director and had him start his duties prior to receiving the approval of the full board.

· On March 28 the board had a highly contentious meeting in which the board president, Daniel Vernon, resigned.

Later in the meeting four other board members resigned after the majority of the board opted against asking Lerma to continue as director for another 45 days.

During that meeting the board opted against having Thomas work as interim director, stating the ad-hoc committee did not have the authority to hire him. Employees said the board should step down because of conflicts of interest and its failure to effectively manage the nonprofit agency.

Following that meeting, nine board members remained.

· More recently, three of the board members who resigned returned to their seats, and Sykora has worked with the agency's management team to present a united front. That effort has included addressing the conflict of interest matter and the search for a permanent chief executive officer.

On the conflict of interest matter, some focus has been on two board members — Teresa Sandoval and her daughter, Maricela Solorzano — involved with a nonprofit agency called Fuerza Campesina. That nonprofit sub-contracts with Clinicas to provide services to farm workers, according to Clinicas' documents.

Solorzano declined comment on Fuerza Campesina and any alleged conflict of interest when asked by a reporter.

In other action Thursday, Sykora presented a plan on how the board will go about hiring a new executive officer. The plan is meant to be impartial and prevent any concerns over board members or management staff showing favoritism.

Sykora said in the first phase applications will be screened by Clinicas' personnel officer and two managers.

In the second phase a panel of five area professionals not associated with Clinicas will be chosen to interview candidates.

That panel will present its recommendations to the board and the board will then make a decision on a director. That selection will have to be approved by state and federal agencies before it is finalized.

Sykora said Clinicas is advertising the position nationally and a number of applications have been received.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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