Different Points of View Clash in Calexico

By Mario Conde

Different points of view clash in Calexico about the possible disbanding of the Calexico Heffernan Memorial Hospital District.

Rumors of a possible disbandment started in early January since it was stated a group of citizens in Calexico were going to start gathering signatures to put a measure in the ballot to dissolve the Heffernan District. The board will face an investigation by the County Grand Jury for misappropriation of public funds because of their land deal with the now extinct Mega Park project were the board gave the developer $500,000 in hopes of creating a medical center.

The Calexico Chronicle asked County Counsel Michael Rood about what would be the process to eliminate the Hospital District and the future of the money the board sits. Rood said that the Local Agency Formation Commission will be the entity to consider the dissolution of the board. The County Board of Supervisors will not be involved in this process except for Supervisors Wally Leimgruber and Mike Kelley who sit on the LAFCO board. In order to initiate the process, any petitioner or legislative body desiring to initiate proceedings shall submit an application to the executive officer of the County. LAFCO will hold a public hearing and will take arguments, evidence for or against the dissolution of the district before making a final decision.

When asked about the fate to the $3 Million that the Heffernan sits on if the board is dissolve, Rood believes that if the City of Calexico was to ask for the money LAFCO might put on their terms and conditions of the money transfer to continue using it only for medical purposes.

The Heffernan Hospital Board held a meeting last Wednesday to hear a presentation of a consulting firm that made various recommendations to the board to explore subsidizing 24 hour coverage of the existing rural health clinic for the subsidy required to keep their clinics open 24 hours and related programs and staffing they will provide with such funds.

After the presentation Heffernan Attorney Orlando Foote blasted a recent newspaper editorial for suggesting the elimination of the board. He said that if board is dissolved the property taxes the district collects would be lost and the City will not be able to recuperate those monies. Chairman Sylvia Bernal echoed Foote’s comments saying that the district collects property taxes that support various clinics in Calexico and the City’s public safety.

Councilman Guillermo Hermosillo has stated publicly his support of dissolving the board. Bernal said that they tried to meet with Hermosillo to show them their work but he does not show up to their meetings. Board member Rosie Fernandez criticized Hermosillo and said he is not doing his homework by not coming and see their work. Bernal and the Grand Jury Forman suggested holding the movement to dissolve the district after the grand jury investigation is over.

Councilman Hermosillo responded by saying that he has lived in Calexico since 1992 and said he stands behind the residents of Calexico that want the elimination of the district. “The District has been in existence since 1947 and all this time the only thing they’ve done is to collect sales and property taxes. We are here in 2010 and the only thing they have given us is an ambulance. What purpose do they serve? They have spent millions for nothing. This has to stop” He said.

When asked about the request of the County Grand Jury Foreman to postpone the elimination of the district after the investigation of the grand jury, Hermosillo said that this is not an issue for the Grand Jury Foreman since he will be in charge of a separate criminal investigation and is not a resident of Calexico. “This issue is only for Calexico residents and LAFCO.” Hermosillo said.

Councilman Hermosillo said he will try to get the support of his fellow council members to pass a resolution to recommend LAFCO to dissolve the district. Councilman Daniel Romero who sits on the JPA board made of two members of the council and two of the district said he opposes dissolving the board. Romero stated being in favor of the elimination of the district before he came to the City Council but as of today he doesn’t think dissolving the board is in the best interest for Calexico.