Kirk Effinger: People deserve answers on high-profile dismissals

News of the firing of former CEO Larry Anderson this past week by the Tri-City Healthcare District Board of Directors no doubt brought some sense of vindication to former board members Randy Horton and Kathleen Sterling, two of Anderson’s most vocal critics.No doubt, after years of Anderson ally RoseMarie Reno’s imperious and questionable banishments of Horton and Sterling from numerous board sessions, Reno being left to sit outside during the closed-session where the decision made was ironic and sweetly poetic justice.

Criticism of the leadership at the district from its board on down has been virtually non-stop for years. Claims of fiscal mismanagement, questions about effectiveness of its medical teams, and overall doubt regarding the quality of the system have been a constant shadow.

According to Chairman Larry Schallock, the Tri-City board had determined a change was needed due to results of an investigation into a complaint that uncovered problems with “some of the decisions made by Mr. Anderson.”

While Anderson’s dismissal is very likely a good thing for the district and all the taxpayers who are helping to pay its bills, Schallock’s citing that the “results of the investigation are a matter of attorney-client privilege and cannot be released for the protection of the hospital’s interests,” residents and taxpayers of the district are left completely in the dark as to what deed or deeds prompted this extraordinary action.

This is wrong, yet it follows an all-too-familiar pattern.

There was a similar departure of a high-profile chief executive of a public agency under a cloud of mystery in Escondido recently when that city’s long-time police Chief Jim Maher was forced to resign. As in the Tri-City case, people in the know won’t tell the public the reasons for Maher’s departure and, just like Tri-City, the public is demanding answers.

When you take a high-level position in the public sector, you should expect your life to be an open book. Not disclosing reasons for someone’s termination opens the door not only for their committing the same acts elsewhere, it relieves their supervisors — the elected body — from having to explain how they allowed what happened to occur in the first place.

We should expect no less of government employees in positions of authority than that we expect of elected officials. If a Bob Filner or Randy Cunningham can have his misdeeds exposed as an elected public employee, why not a top-ranking bureaucrat?

The failure and reluctance to disclose to the voting and taxpaying public the reasons behind the firing, “resignation,” or whatever euphemism is chosen for the dismissal of an employee by policy-making bodies like the Escondido City Council or the Tri-City’s Board is nothing less than a cover-up hiding behind a cloak of “personnel matters” or “attorney-client privilege.”

Public demands for accountability includes a complete understanding of the reasons behind the removal of persons who are acting in positions of authority on our behalf. Doing any less favors anyone who had a hand in creating the problem at the expense of the people they serve.

Kirk W. Effinger was born in San Diego and raised in Southern California. He and his family have been residents of San Marcos for the past 30 years. His opinion columns have appeared regularly in the North County Times and, later, the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1995. He can be reached at kirkinsanmarcos@att.net or follow him on Twitter at @kirkeffinger.

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