An odd election is brewing for three seats on the Sequoia Healthcare District board that pits three current members in a race for just two open seats.
Kim Griffin’s and Katie Kane’s seats are up for re-election this November but Jack Hickey, who already sits on the board and whose seat does not expire for another two years, jumped into the race to force a $160,000 election in an effort to gain the most votes and to prove with his victory that residents want to see the district dissolved.
"The election is about dissolution. A vote for Hickey is a vote for dissolution,” Hickey told the Daily Journal. He intends to get the most votes, he said.
All three candidates visited the Daily Journal office Tuesday for a question and answer session.
Kane, who has served on the board since 1992, is seeking re-election so that the district will continue to serve the health care needs for its most vulnerable residents. Sequoia serves most of southern San Mateo County.
She touts the district’s support of the Samaritan House Free Clinic and county-run Fair Oaks Clinic, support for physical education teachers and nutrition programs in public schools that the district helps fund with its $8.6 million in annual property taxes it collects.
The district will become even more vital, she said, as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its many reforms are instituted.
"There will be a great need to help people access care,” she said.
Hickey, however, said the district should not be subsidizing schools and that with dissolution, the millions in property taxes the district collects would go to other tax districts, such as schools.
"We are doing a lot of things that would be done without us,” Hickey said about the programs the district supports. Hickey was first elected to the board in 2002. Although his seat is not up for re-election until 2014, he is running now to try and force one of the incumbents to lose their seat.
Griffin was elected to the board in 2008.
"The job is a lot more work that I thought it would be. But I’m passionate about my job to keep people healthy and care for the sick,” said Griffin, a registered nurse at Children’s Cardiology of the Bay Area.
With the economic downturn, Griffin said, many district residents are going without health care. With a shortage of primary care physicians in the area, residents who get insurance through the Affordable Care Act will need help accessing care, she said.
Griffin, the board’s president, would like to see the board put more money into schools and elder care in the coming years.
"There are a lot of seniors out there who really need help,” Griffin said.
Currently, the Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating two members of the board, Vice President Dr. Gerald Shefren and Director Art Faro, for conflicts of interest related to board votes.
Griffin called the conflicts "honest mistakes” and Kane called Shefren and Faro "upfront and honorable people.”
Even Hickey said he had no major concerns related to the investigation.
The district also supplies automated external defibrillators to fire departments and other agencies that Griffin and Kane call a good investment since they "save lives.”
But Hickey said providing the devices is "not a proper function of the district to be involved in.”
With dissolution, Hickey’s main goal, more taxpayer money would go directly to local schools, he said.
"The money should go directly where it belongs,” Hickey said.
But Kane said that if the district were to dissolve, all the programs it supports would stop and health care services for the most needy would not be met.
"We are providing services beyond what the hospital can do,” said Kane, a human resource consultant.
If Hickey loses in November, he will still hold his current seat, which expires in 2014.
In 1946, voters approved a tax assessment for the construction, maintenance and operation of a hospital. The district, formerly the Sequoia Hospital District, sold Sequoia Hospital, however, to Catholic Healthcare West in 1996. It started supporting nonprofits and county programs after that with the property tax it collects but Hickey contends that is not what voters approved when the tax assessment passed.
"We shouldn’t be engaged in philanthropy,” he said.
While Hickey has made himself out to be a tax advocate, his opponents question why he would want to spend $160,000 of district money to force an unneeded election.
"That money could be used to fund meals for seniors and a lot of other services,” Griffin said. "It’s shameful.”
The election would have been uncontested without Hickey jumping into the race, she said.
"He nickels and dimes everything. It is self-serving of him to spend the money,” Kane said about Hickey forcing an election.
Hickey told the Daily Journal he would like to retire in a couple of years but wants the district dissolved before he does.
Hickey ran against a slate of candidates that included Frederick Graham and Michael Stogner in 2010 to try to take control of the board. While Hickey won his seat, Graham and Stogner failed miserably at the polls.
Hickey hoped to take control of the board and start the dissolution process. He also tried to find other suitable candidates to run for the seats this November but was unable, he said.
Kane was instrumental in developing a partnership with Cañada College, San Francisco State University and Sequoia Hospital that has produced more than 400 medical nurses with master’s degrees, with priority given to district residents and hiring at Sequoia Hospital.
The health care district provides $1 million annually in support of the program.
In running for the four-year seat, Hickey’s candidate statement said he is giving voters "an opportunity to cast a single vote in support of dissolution.”
For his part, Hickey said many of the charitable organizations receiving grants from the district are worthy of support. However, he said, it should be up to residents to support the organizations out of their own pockets and not through a tax assessment.
The election is Nov. 6
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.