In a sobering assessment of the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District, the head of its oversight organization, the Imperial Local Area Formation Commission,
responded to questions about keeping the district in compliance with state requirements.
Speaking at the July 18 meeting of the Heffernan board of directors, LAFCO Executive Officer Jurg Heuberger remarked he was attending not to pick on the district but to provide direction. LAFCO oversees special districts under state law.
"A couple of years ago I knew HMHD needed improvement," he said. "I give you a grade B. I know you're an A team and I think you're headed there."
The turnabout appears to be have been even faster. Heuberger’s assessment is in stark contrast to his appearance at the Feb. 21 Heffernan meeting where he raised the grim prospect of dissolving the district due its shortcomings, including not having a staff person and lack of policy for assessing funding requests.
Heuberger on July 18 cited several points of departure where Heffernan strayed from acceptable protocol, especially excessive emergency meetings recently scheduled, sometimes just for one agenda item. It is supposed to schedule just two meetings per month.
"It's a matter of public perception," said Heuberger. "People cannot afford to come down here to meet every week. Some meetings are scheduled at odd hours. The public begins to think you're trying to wear them out and prevent them from attending public meetings."
Additionally, he asked Heffernan prepare a five-year plan outlining long-range goals. Another major criteria is financial, he noted.
"You're in a doggone good position--you got lots of money," he said. "But you are not allowed to subsidize the city of Calexico programs until they have a draft plan approved by LAFCO."
Earlier in 2018 the city of Calexico inquired about Heffernan helping finance the city fire department’s financially strapped ambulance service, something Heuberger warned at the time was not consistent with Heffernan’s mission. Despite that, the proposal to fund the ambulance service was defeated Jan. 17 in a narrow 3-2 vote by the Heffernan board.
Heuberger urged Heffernan to adopt a policy guideline that spells out criteria of funding requests are evaluated.
"Once you have guidelines they should be reproduced on a standard hand-out you can distribute to applicants. Consider posting them to your website and tell everybody, ‘Hey, read the rules online,’" Heuberger added.
Responding to Heffernan trustee Rudolfo Valdez, he remarked the district will continue to be monitored until such time that LAFCO has confidence that it is no longer necessary for such close oversight.
"For the time being, we'll oversee you," he said. "And it's pretty much my recommendation. In our original report (March 2018) discussion arose whether to dissolve you. But we said, ‘No.’ We're trying to give HMHD positive feedback and we don't want to bug you every couple of months."
Answering a question from Heffernan Treasurer Norma Apodaca about a prior recommendation to hire an executive director, Heuberger replied it was not necessary to get a full-time staff member.
"We prefer full-time but we don't expect a $300,000-a-year executive," he said. "We understand starting off with a half-time executive secretary maybe enough. We're not here to tell you how but provide you guidance."
At the beginning of the month, after reviewing three candidates, Heffernan identified Tomas Virgin as their choice. He is now undergoing a background check.
The Heffernan board also voted unanimously to accept the treasurer's report. Total assets were $6,350,946. Total expenses were $31,307, including $17,157 of Heffernan grants for the period of June 20 to July 15.