About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Give Olivia a Voice from Rainbow Heaven

Stop Making Puppy Mills Profitable


At the Carlsbad City Council's April 12 meeting, Dale Bartlett, policy manager for the Humane Society of the United States puppy mill campaign, will ask the council to ban stores that source their pets from puppy mills. Oceanside, Encinitas and San Marcos have already instituted such bans.

So far, only council members Keith Blackburn and Lorraine Wood have agreed to meet with local animal rights activists about a ban.  Mayor Hall and council members Mark Packard and Michael Schumacher have refused to meet with them.

The issue has become personal for me, as expressed in the following column I wrote for the North County Times ten years ago.

You Can Help Stop Puppy Mills
6/23/06 North County Times

Olivia moved in with us last month. She's had a hard life and it shows. Loss of vision in one eye and the aches and pains of old age make it hard for her to get around. My wife and I took her in partly out of pity and a sense of responsibility. As Robert Frost said in verse, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

To our surprise and delight, within hours after Olivia joined the family we discovered she was more of a gift than an act of kindness. She captured our hearts, even after our discovery she hadn't been house-trained.

No, Olivia isn't a widowed aunt being passed around the family in her twilight years. She's our newly adopted, 10-year-old toy poodle.

While searching online for dog rescue agencies we came across Olivia's picture posted on Critter Crossings of Fallbrook. She had the sad and frightened eyes of a puppy mill survivor.

During her first day with us Olivia sat quietly in corners and trembled, flinching at our every approach, rarely venturing forth from her new kennel. She'd been debarked by her captors.

After a few days she began to come out of her shell. But she refused to take a leash and was still too frightened to move more than a few steps at a time. We bought her a doggie stroller with the fitting brand name, "Outward Hound," so we could take her with us on our daily walks. She's now become somewhat of a celebrity on the Batiquitos Lagoon trail, bringing smiles of encouragement as she rides royally along.

After a lifetime of mistreatment, Olivia has a long way to go to learn to trust humans. From what we've learned about puppy mills, she was one of the lucky ones. Referred to as "brood bitches," others like her are imprisoned for years in small cages for one purpose only, to be bred repeatedly before being killed after their reproductive profitability wanes.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are thousands of puppy mills currently operating in the U.S., many of them after repeated violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. But with fewer than 100 U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors overseeing breeders, zoos, circuses and laboratories nationwide, it is unlikely law enforcement alone can stop the abuse.

The best way to end the suffering of dogs like Olivia is to make puppy mills unprofitable. They supply many of the dogs sold in retail pet stores, over the Internet, through newspaper ads, on street corners and at swap meets. You can help by refusing to buy your family pet from any of those places. Adopt your pet from a local animal shelter, where both you and your dog will be scrutinized to assure a healthy match.

Stories of mistreated puppies smuggled across the border don't get as much press as the fierce debate over immigration reform. But the despicable treatment of these helpless little illegal immigrants deserves equal attention.

Olivia was 18 years old when she crossed the Rainbow Bridge two years ago to wait for us. We feel her silent presence every time we return home from our daily walks. You can give her back her voice by letting Mayor Hall and the city council know that allowing shopping malls to sell puppies amounts to sanctioning animal abuse.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

CEO Revolving Door at Tri-City Costly to Taxpayers

Tri-City Healthcare District Chairman of the Board, Jim Dagastino, gushed last week about the appointment of the hospital's third CEO in three years, the promotion of chief financial officer, Steven Dietlin.  "Mr. Dietlin made an immediate impact on Tri-City medical center's financial well-being as CFO when he arrived at the hospital in 2013."

The board chairman had to keep a straight face in his praise of outgoing CEO Tim Moran for his "leadership." Moran, the San Diego Business Journal's Most Admired CEO of 2016, lasted less than two years before being canned by Tri-City. He collected $600,00 in severance pay and a year of medical and dental coverage.

What Dagostino didn't mention is that the CEO they fired three years ago brought Dietlin to Tri-City in early 2013. Larry Anderson needed help to fix serious problems with the hospital's financials. Like Moran, Anderson had been named Most Admired CEO by SDBJ in 2012, apparently the kiss of death for Tri-City executives.

Documents related to Anderson's firing are cited below, including an exchange of letters between the hospital's and Anderson's attorneys, as well as a transcript of the California Unemployment Insurance Board's hearing of March 18, 2014, the only opportunity Anderson has had to respond to any of the charges made against him.

It's a lesson on how not to fire a CEO and may also explain Tri-City's kinder and more generous sendoff of Tim Moran.

On August 25, 2013 an anonymous call is received on the hospital's complaint hotline.

On September 4 Anderson is placed on administrative leave. The hospital hires outside attorneys to launch a secret investigation of the charges, including an 8-hour grilling of the CEO.

On October 16 Anderson's attorney, George Rikos, receives a letter from Greg Moser, the hospital's attorney, informing him the Board of Directors planned to meet the following day to consider "specific complaints and charges" against Anderson in a closed session, to "evaluate his performance," warning that other actions might be taken, including "discipline or dismissal." He's not told what the charges are, but Anderson is offered the right to request a 30-minute open session to respond to them.

On the day of the October 17 board meeting letters fly between Rikos, and Moser. Rikos points out Anderson has undergone an extensive investigation and the time limit to respond to its findings is unreasonable. In response, Moser claims the time limit is "neither arbitrary nor improper," since "until the charges and complaints are specified, it cannot be determined if that limitation is or is not appropriate and fair." He says Anderson could have asked for more time, but the board will proceed with a closed session. Anderson submits his resignation "for cause," not being allowed to do his job for more than a month. He says he expects to receive the severance pay promised in his employment contract. The board ignores Anderson's resignation, voting unanimously that evening to fire him effective the following day, October 18.

On October 29 Rikos demands a list of the charges, as well as an explanation of why Anderson's resignation was ignored. He accuses the board of denying him his rights to a pre-termination hearing as required by California law.

On October 30 Moser promises to provide a list of charges. He says Anderson had an opportunity to hear them either in open or closed session and chose not to do so. That could be because in Moser's letter of October 17 he says charges had not been "specified" before Anderson could meet with the board. Moser says Anderson didn't resign in time, as required by his contract and did not have a right to a pre-termination hearing, since he was an "at will" employee.

On November 4 a letter from the board allows Anderson to see for the first time the 14 charges leveled against him that he'd been expected to respond to three weeks earlier.

After Tri-City refused to contribute to Anderson's unemployment insurance, he requested a hearing before the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The hospital's top four reasons for firing Anderson, according to the hospital's compliance officer, Matthew Soskins, "violated his duties as CEO." The hearing officer explained, "I'm looking at whether the employer discharged the claimant for misconduct, a substantial breach of an important duty owed to the employer, willful or wanton in nature, that tends to injure the employer."

Here are those top four claims and the findings of Dorothy Johnson, Administrative Law Judge.

1. Anderson wrongfully paid $75,000 to Landreth Development for work not owned by Tri-City.

Finding: Anderson received no benefit from, and was acting within his authority as CEO, in paying for a feasibility study of a development on District property.  

2. Anderson improperly distributed theater tickets in violation of Tri-City's policies and procedures and provisions of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Finding: Tri-City did not provide specifics on what the policy was or exactly how Anderson violated it. The employer conceded as CEO Anderson was authorized to distribute tickets and also to designate someone else to oversee the distribution of tickets. Anderson and his wife were holders of their own personal tickets which they used for themselves or gave to others as they saw fit.

3. Anderson improperly used district funds/resources to investigate Matt Hall, Mayor of Carlsbad.

Finding: Anderson did not use any district resources to investigate Hall. Farrah Douglas, a Tri-City Hospital Foundation Board Member, who also sat on the Carlsbad City Council, reported to Anderson that Hall had allegedly claimed her participation on the Foundation Board was a conflict of interest. There is no persuasive evidence Anderson used district resources for anything other than a legal opinion.

4. Anderson coerced Alex Yu, former chief financial officer into misrepresenting certain financial information.

Finding: Tri-City's witness testified he had no personal knowledge that Anderson had attempted to deceive the employer in connection with the financials. At the hearing, the employer relied on alleged statements from the former CFO, none of which were signed under penalty of perjury.

The judge's conclusion? "The only witness to testify on behalf of the employer in this case was Matthew Soskins, the hospital's Chief Compliance Officer, who, almost without exception, had no firsthand knowledge about any of the matters at issue and whose testimony was based almost entirely on hearsay." The employer offered no persuasive evidence that any of Anderson's conduct was outside his authority as CEO.

On July 23, 2014 Anderson filed a civil suit in Superior Court of San Diego, accusing Tri-City attorneys of malpractice. On April 22 at 9:00 a.m. the Anderson v. Patterson jury trial will begin. If Anderson wins his case the hospital may be liable for damages. The fired CEO told me he estimates those damages could be in the millions, amounting to more than ten times the $450,000 in severance pay he would have collected if, like Moran, they had fired him quietly, without accusing him of misconduct.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Carlsbad City Hall No Place For Apologies

Mayor Matt Hall called for peace in the city at the Carlsbad City Council's March 8 meeting, days after Measure A was defeated. After enduring a verbal waterboarding of criticism by seven speakers who asked him to apologize for his role in dividing the city, he concluded the meeting with a promise:

"If an apology is what it takes  to bring us all back together I will say that 1,000 times. I realize there was a difference in this and I realize the passion for what you believe in. But right now I think the best thing for us is to come back together. That's what separates Carlsbad from any other city in North County. It's allowed us to go through a lot of different issues where there were differences. But at the end of the day we came back together and were willing to work together. And that would be my commitment to you."

I guess he wasn't ready to begin those 1,000 apologies just yet. But after someone yelled from the audience to remind him, he relented. "I apologize to you, Greg. Looking at you, I clearly apologize, if that's what it takes to bring us back together, I apologize."

The mayor didn't say what he was sorry for, but had he listened more closely to another speaker, Hope Nelson, he would have heard the list of reasons. He could apologize for:

1. Not  investigating the deceptive 85/15 Initiative signature campaign. The petition read: "TO BE SUBMITTED DIRECTLY TO THE VOTERS." Many of us believed in that promise.

2. Refusing to allow a vote, or even a 30-day delay for citizen input, before approving the plan on August 25.

3. Following the referendum success, setting an early date for a very expensive special election.

4. Allowing his face to appear on material that made no mention of a mall.

5. Campaigning hard for an L.A. developer's plan, knowing a significant number of his constituents were not in favor of it, choosing not to remain neutral to find out what the citizens wanted.

6. Failing to "get a clear understanding of the 9212 Report."

It appears the mayor has apologized only for the city's divisiveness, not his role in causing it. It's the old no-apology apology trick: "I apologize if you were offended by what I'm not sorry for doing."

Mayor Hall's Council colleagues also failed to apologize, or even to address the complaints coming from the public comments.

Keith Blackburn was the only councilmember with nothing to say upon the meeting's closing remarks. That struck me as unusual, since one of the speakers, Donna Bower, had addressed him directly about his visit to her house on March 5, wearing his police uniform, in a squad car parked in her driveway. She was hosting a victory celebration for NO on A volunteers on that day. Asking for, "An explanation of why, if you were dispatched, you did not knock on my door," she wondered if Blackburn had intended to harass her guests.

I asked the Councilman about that. He told me he volunteers one day each week to patrol neighborhoods. On Saturday, March 5, he said, his dispatcher reported a complaint had been made about a car partially blocking Adams Street. According to Blackburn, he drove to the location, parked in Donna Bower's driveway, and spoke briefly with a couple of guests, explaining the need to move the cars. He said he was there for only about five minutes and couldn't understand why anyone would be upset about it.

I heard from two party guests who saw the police officer/councilman at Bower's house. According to Jodi Good, "The police car was within the open gates, the doors to the house were open as well. I approached the vehicle and asked the officer if he needed help. The officer asked if we were, 'having a birthday party or something?'  I asked if there were complaints and he said no. There were cars parked illegally on the street. Why did he pretend not to know us when three of us had spoken at several city council meetings or personally talked to him?  I found the whole incident weird, especially when involving a police officer and sitting elected city official!"

Another guest told me, "It was our understanding Mr. Blackburn was retired from active duty. It was extremely unsettling to think he was patrolling an event where his political adversaries were celebrating their victory over a measure he advocated for, which also had police union support. There were political signs lining the street, so it was easy to find the residence and know what the event was all about.

Other party guests have placed the patrol car on Adams Street as early as 8p.m. a full half hour before our interaction."

If Blackburn's account were accurate, a routine five-minute stop to inform someone their car was parked illegally, why didn't he explain that at the city council meeting? It would have taken only a few minutes and prevented the spread of rumors that only lead to more distrust of elected officials.

Mayor Hall's non-apology apology, echoing Rodney King's lament, "Why can't we all get along?" together with Blackburn's unexplained silence after being confronted at a council meeting, suggests the need for new city leadership.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Carlsbad City Council "Very Unfamiliar" with Lagoon Mall Review Process

Time for Mayor Hall to Step Down?

Three days after the San Diego Registrar of Voters announced the defeat of Carlsbad's Measure A, Mayor Matt Hall was interviewed on KUSI. When asked how he and the city Council would deal with the fallout over an issue that had been unanimously approved by the Council before the people said no and called for a public vote, here was his reply:

"The city council, our role, is to process projects. And obviously there's more than one way to process a project. We're very knowledgeable about the CEQA way of doing things (the California Environmental Quality Act). Mr. Caruso chose to use the 9212 Report, which the city is very unfamiliar with. So part of the difficulty was trying to work our way through a 9212 Report and get clear understanding. Most of the people I've talked to leading up to this, that was their biggest concern, that there was this sidestep of CEQA. And I think that's one of the things we really need to look at. And I know, from my personal belief, that anybody coming forward that want to use a 9212 Report I would say, (long pause, nervous chuckle) not my idea..."

Let's take a closer look at what Hall said. To say that the role of the city Council is, "to process projects," suggests a clerical, rather than a leadership responsibility. That's an easy excuse for what he agrees was a bad idea, the sidestepping of CEQA. It was a clerical error. Nothing more than a Council vote typo!

Hall's excuse calls to mind Bart Simpson's standard way of escaping responsibility for his dirty deeds. "I didn't do it, nobody saw me do it, and I won't do it again." It would be funny if it weren't for the $750,000 taxpayers paid for a special election and the community divisiveness caused by a mayor who refused to listen to the people.

If the mayor is more than a visor-wearing, sleeves-gartered clerical bureaucrat, what are his duties, job description and mission? The city's website has a detailed list of qualifications and duties of city employees, including City Manager. What I couldn't find is what the mayor and city council are held accountable for, rather than meeting regularly. Nor could I find a City Council Mission Statement. Oceanside has one, as does San Marcos. Vista has a description of the Mayor and City Council's duties. The City of Carlsbad has a fine Mission, Vision and Values Statement, but no explanation of how the Mayor and City Council are expected to practice them.

And this time around they seem woefully out of practice. Their blind support of Caruso's lagoon mall campaign reveals how they skirted city organizational values.

Stewardship: "We responsibly manage the public resources entrusted to us and provide the best value to our community."
So why did they agree to pay $750,000 for a quickie special election in February, instead of $35,000-$50,000 to place it on the ballot of either the Primary or General Election?

Empowerment: "We help people achieve their personal best by creating an environment where they feel trusted, valued and inspired."
Tell that to the long line of residents attending the August 25 meeting, waiting to explain the shortcomings of the 9212 Report, expressing outrage for avoiding state and local environmental reviews. Without even allowing a 30-day delay for further consideration, the council voted unanimously to approve the project.

Tell that to the hundreds of citizen volunteers carrying "let the people vote" referendum petitions while being harassed by the developer's paid operatives.

Tell that to the recipients of a developer's mass mailing, graced by the smiling faces of the five council members, urging voters not to sign the referendum, with a mail-in form to city hall attached, demanding their names to be removed if they've already signed.

Communication "We communicate openly and directly. Promoting engagement and collaboration makes our organization better and our community stronger."
Tell that to Cori Schumacher, who spoke in opposition to a February special election at the November 17 meeting. Mayor Hall ordered the assistant city manager to provide an on-the-spot rebuttal of her presentation, a first in interrupting a line of speakers at a Council meeting to allow time for a mayor's rebuttal.

Mayor Hall now promises to reach out to those "in the middle or opposed" to the project to see what they want to do next. It's too late, Mayor Hall. Begin with an apology, then step down. The people of Carlsbad deserve more than a self-described project processor for their leader.