For more than 16 years, Jack Hickey has protested every expenditure made by the Sequoia Healthcare District, the closest he has been able to come to fulfilling the promise he made when he was elected to the District board of directors in 2002 – to abolish the district.
Except there is one expense Hickey, 84, is willing to accept – the healthcare benefit reimbursement program extended to all board members.
Over the same 16 years, he has availed himself of that singular benefit.
It adds up to a modest amount of money – a total of about $8,300 or about $43 a month — based on Hickey’s own assertion that the only health benefit he has accepted has been reimbursement for Kaiser Senior Advantage and Social Security Medicare costs.
It could be seen as trivial, except that every other single expenditure by the district has been objected to and opposed by Hickey since he joined the board.
A HOSTILE TAKEOVER: Now, for the second time, Hickey is trying to gain control of the board for the purpose of dissolving the district.
Up for re-election himself, Hickey has lined up two allies to also run for the district board – Harland Harrison and former Foster City Councilman Art Kiesel, both of whom subscribe to Hickey’s hard line view that the district should be dismantled.
For the first time, Sequoia Healthcare board members will be elected by zones. Hickey is being challenged by physician Aaron Nayfack in Zone C, which covers San Carlos to Emerald Hills; incumbent Arthur Faro is being challenged by Kiesel and former nonprofit CEO Michael Garb in Zone A, which covers Redwood Shores to Foster City; and incumbent Jerry Shefren is being challenged by Harrison in Zone E, which covers Portola Valley to Belmont.
The last time Hickey tried to pack the board with like-minded candidates, only he won election.
Hickey justified accepting the healthcare benefit because he uses his own funds to fight for the dissolution of the district, while other board members spend the district’s tax revenues “to help their friends” and “granting money to their favorite charities.” He said the other board members make politically popular grants that will ensure continued support for the district’s existence.
In a similar vein, Harrison said on a recent social media post that “the board diverted $15,800,000 in taxes last year. Much of that money was wasted.”
Diversion of funds is illegal, of course, and it’s not what the district has been doing.
The Sequoia Hospital District was formed in 1946 as a nonprofit to open and run Sequoia Hospital, the first district of its kind in California. A property tax was approved by voters to finance hospital and its activities, currently about $100 per parcel.
In 1996, the hospital was sold to Catholic Healthcare West and is now owned by Dignity Health.
Without a hospital to fund, the district has continued to collect the taxes, but has shifted to awarding grants to organizations that make meaningful contributions to the health and emotional well-being of the community, including school nurses, physical education teachers, mental health counselors and programs to feed the hungry and provide rehabilitation for drug abusers.
For Fiscal Year 2018-19, the district projected collecting more than $15 million in revenue and spending more than $16 million. Among the major grants is $4.4 million for a school health program that provides nurses, counseling and preventive care to 28,000 public school children. A clinic at nonprofit Samaritan House receives a grant of $948,000, the Ravenswood-Fair Oaks Health Center a grant of $700,000 and the new 70 Strong program, aimed at enhancing health and preventive care for seniors, $658,000. Most of the grants are for a set period of time. For example, the district just completed a three-year grant program that provided support to San Mateo Medical Center, the county-operated public hospital.
The district spends $1.1 million a year on administrative expenses, which include a CEO and a staff of four.
Recently, Hickey objected to a grant by the district to help fund the Magical Playground expected to open at the end of this year, arguing that people outside the district boundaries would use the park.
Because the district has gone to elections by zone, that may improve Hickey’s chances of gaining allies on the board.
Up to now, as he seeks his fifth term, Hickey has had little success advancing his cause, neither building meaningful public support for the dissolution of the district nor gaining influence among his board colleagues. The board votes 4-1 on nearly every action that comes before it with Hickey on the losing end.
But what we know for sure is that he will remain undeterred.
When he was elected in 2002, Hickey had run for office so many times that even he had lost count. First as a Republican and later as a Libertarian, he ran for, among many other offices, the U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, the state Assembly and Senate, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Community College District.
In 2012, when the board was still elected district-wide, Hickey ran against two incumbents, even though he was already on the board and was not up for re-election.
At the time, he told a newspaper that if he won, it would be a clear message that the public supports his position of eliminating the district.
Contact Mark Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Sequoia Healthcare District
*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.