Taxpayers stuck with bill for junket


Daily Post Editor

First thing, let’s call the trip by the Sequoia Healthcare District to San Diego by its correct name — a junket.

As you read in Saturday’s Post, four elected members of the district’s board and two administrators are going to the Kona Kai Resort and Spa in San Diego this week for a conference that will cost taxpayers more than $6,600.

The occasion is the Association of California Health Care Districts conference. I didn’t even know such a group exists. But every industry has an annual trade show, where companies send their executives. Officially, it’s supposed to be a working trip where valuable information is shared, but they always hold them at resorts with amenities such as golf and tennis.

This trip raises a few questions in my mind:

• Why do four of the five board members have to attend? Why not have one member attend and take good notes that can be shared with the other directors?

• Why can’t we eliminate all the travel costs and do these conferences as webinars?

• Why is the Sequoia Healthcare District’s executive director, Lee Michelson, going when he plans to retire later this year? Why are we taxpayers paying to educate somebody at this conference who won’t be in his job in January?

The amount of money involved — $6,600 — may seem small compared to the district’s $16 million annual budget. But it’s a matter of principle. If you’re willing to blow $6,600 like this, what else are you wasting money on?

District’s history

If you’re scratching your head wondering what is the Sequoia Healthcare District, here’s a quick history. Voters created the district in 1948 to collect a property tax in southern San Mateo County to support Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City. Such hospital districts sprouted up all over the state at that time to build hospitals.



In 1996, the district sold Sequoia Hospital for $30 million. At that point, you’d think the district would go away since its purpose had ended, right? And if the district went away, the property tax would stop too, right?

No, the district survived and it kept collecting taxes as if it still had a hospital to support. It changed its name to the Sequoia Healthcare District and started doling out tax money to charities that provide health services. That made the board members who voted on such grants very popular in some social circles.

District survives

You might think that it would be more efficient if the district were to die and stop collecting the tax so that residents could decide for themselves what charities would receive their hard-earned dollars. That was the conclusion of the civil grand jury, a panel made up of 19 residents empaneled by the courts to investigate government operations.

But the powers that be in San Mateo County weren’t going to let that happen.

A guy named Jack Hickey, a Libertarian from Redwood City, got elected to the Sequoia board with the promise that he’d dissolve the district and end the tax. But he was never able to get two more people elected to the five-member board who saw it his way. So his attempts to correct this situation always end in 4-1 vote.

Ironically, Hickey is the only member of the board not attending the San Diego conference.

Advice on wining and dining

Finally, here’s a tip for Sequoia officials. Since you’re going to be in San Diego, ask San Mateo County Community College District Chancellor Ron Galatolo for advice on the good places to wine and dine. In 2014, he spent $100 of college district money on a bottle of Rubicon Cask at the Acqua restaurant at the Hilton San Diego.