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Not a Team Player

In January the dysfunction within the Mendocino Coast Health Care District (MCHCD) Board of Directors caused the head of their bookkeeping service to admonish them to not involve the bookkeeper's employees in the board's disagreements. The owner of the bookkeeping service observed, “[A]t the end of the day... working together is far more valuable than against each other. But you already know this and yet, you still have a tough road ahead.”

One guess as to which MCHCD Board member this was addressed to.... Time's up. MCHCD Board Treasurer John Redding.

We will circle back to the bookkeeper. First, let's backtrack to why I occasionally feel a tinge of responsibility for the mess MCHCD is in. July 24, 2020 started off with rounding up free ranging cattle for their supplemental alfalfa feeding here at the ranch. A midday trip to Fort Bragg included a noon hour drop off of home grown apricots and a jar of homemade cherry jam at the front desk of Jessica Grinberg's (then MCHCD Board chair) work place.

By late afternoon I was back home, filing a chainsaw on the pickup truck's tailgate, with iPhone alongside, when Jessica texted in reference to the apricots and jam. “Wow. What a treat. Thank you.”

For brevity's sake let's employ initials here. MM: “You are very welcome. There's a bevy of baby quail in the yard. Just can't quite get them and their parent quail to hold still long enough for a photo.”

JG: “How about joining the hospital board?”

MM: “Just because I couldn't capture the quail on camera?!”

JG (with a wink emoji): “Yes. There are consequences to be paid for our actions.”

MM: “You make me laugh so hard and I'm trying to file one of the chainsaws. Can I do it with no intention of running for the office in November? And what about friendship nepotism?”

JG: “We are not filling the spot. I am referring to November. No one is running. It would be a good opportunity.”

MM: “A good opportunity for what?”

MM: “You know it would be hard for me to say no to you, so I am thinking of every question I can to make you reconsider on your end.”

MM: “How could I possibly get along with JR?”

MM: “In no small part I stopped writing about the hospital so we could be friends as just two people not two people all wrapped up in hospital stuff. I don't want to endanger whatever kind of friendship this is.”

JG: “All good points.”

JG: “Who should I ask?”

In the following week or so, Sara Spring filed papers for one of the two vacant seats on the MCHCD Board. The nearly futile search for another candidate eventually led to Norman deVall being appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

My concerns about Redding at the time were based on his petulant behavior on the board, which included undermining comments about his fellow board members' abilities and a scheme Redding involved himself in that on the surface seemed like a good idea (providing a microgrid for backup energy in Fort Bragg), but I had a suspicion that despite his protestations to the contrary, Redding's microgrid would also make money for his company, UniGen Resources. A coastal citizen had already filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) about this in late spring of that year. Redding had seemingly gotten out from under the complaint by stating that it was all a moot point, that PG&E had pulled out of any plans to fund such programs so he (Redding) couldn't profit from it. Meanwhile, as Jessica and I discussed in early August 2020, Redding (along with his wife) were seemingly planning to make a similar microgrid proposal to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Part of Redding's microgrid plan/scheme involved using several acres of open land around the coast hospital. However, he had failed to mention this to his fellow board members at MCHCD or the leadership at Adventist Health, who, through the affiliation agreement with MCHCD held an encumbrance on that land.

On August 11, 2020 I asked Jessica, “Do you have a copy of his [Redding's] 700 form – is that right number for conflict of interest form?”

JG: “UniGen is on his form.”

JG: “I also checked out his claim of not profiting.”

JG: “Check the CPUC phase two of the microgrid initiative.”

MM: “He and/or wife could make millions. Correct?”

JG: “You are correct regarding conflict.”

JG: “He and his wife would be poised for large growth of their business.”

MM: “Do you have link for that Phase Two? So I can be more educated.”

JG: “I'll google it and send it over.”

She shared that and a legal decision about the encumbered property. The next day we wondered why Redding was so insistent on promising the encumbered open acreage near the hospital instead of some other property nearby. 

JG: “It is a very bad idea for John [Redding] to be doing this with Adventist. We need to be team players. We need to be vigilant and not let them run wild but we also have to be very considerate if they are establishing themselves in the community.”

JG: “If you end up writing an article about it feel free to use the legal decision if it is appropriate.”

Four days later, Redding was up in arms complaining about a City of Fort Bragg letter that simply stated the municipality's neutrality in reference to microgrid projects. Redding took it as a personal affront. 

I shared a copy of the City's letter. Jessica texted, “BTW. I can tell you he lied on his letter to the FPPC. The one that led to the response that the matter will not be pursued.”

JG: “He [Redding] said the project was dropped. Since that point he has made the push to move it to the CPUC. Do you have the letter he wrote?”

MM: “No.” 

JG: “Would it be on the FPPC website?” Not long after, I did acquire the letter from the FPPC.

MM: "In my talk with him [Redding] on the phone, he mentioned that his wife was participating in some symposium or conference later in August. Would that be with CPUC folk?”

JG: “Yes. That was why he needed a commitment for the district property. He and his wife are doing a pitch for their project.”

The two part article I authored about Redding and the microgrid in September 2020 was the last I wrote about the hospital or the healthcare district until January 2022. As recounted elsewhere, between November 2020 and August 2021 I paid next to no attention to the goings on of the MCHCD Board. 

By October 2021 it appeared that the MCHCD Board had clear divisions with confounding and odd new alliances, board members  Amy McColley and Sara Spring on one side, Jessica and John Redding on another, with Norman deVall stuck somewhere in the middle. In a MM to JG text that month I stated, “I just don't get it! What is wrong? I mean that seriously. You can't feel so silo-ed in by Brown Act restrictions that the only other board member you can talk to is Redding because he runs the website.”

McColley and Spring boycotted the regular MCHCD Board meeting on the last Thursday of October 2021, choosing instead to call me and a government official to register their complaints and concerns about Redding as well as Jessica's seeming tacit compliance with Redding's actions. The next day I sent Jessica a text. I cited a statement she had made to me at one point in the past about having “a generous soul” then asked her, “Do you really think Redding is someone you can say that about?”

I mentioned several of Redding's questionable actions as a board member, including badgering former colleague Karen Arnold so much she refused to run for re-election with him on the board. I added this: “You know that both Sara [Spring] and Amy [McColley], for all their dropping the ball on Minutes and other errors are still people who think about the welfare of others, often ahead of themselves.”

Which brings us back around to John Redding's emails to the bookkeeping service MCHCD has employed since July 2021. By mid-December 2021 Amy McColley had replaced Jessica as board chair. Redding was not happy with that development.

The emails started on January 9th of this year (a Sunday) with Redding instructing one of the bookkeeper's employees not to make a payment to Sara Spring. The next day he addressed an email directly to the owner of the company: “This would be, if completed, a fraudulent payment. We have a Health Reimbursement Account program... Our previous CEO failed to register she [Sara Spring] and another Board member for FY 2021... This was clearly unfair. But when I spoke with P&A, they indicated that they could not retroactively enroll these two. I informed Ms. Spring but she has continued to insist that she is owed $4,200 which is the 7 months in which she was not enrolled times $600 a month... We spoke several times about this and Ms. McColley was also informed.” Redding contended that the payment that Chair McColley seemed poised to approve was a compensation rather than a reimbursement. Redding appeared to be claiming that he, as board treasurer, was the one to make such payment decisions.

The head of the bookkeeping service replied. “Would you please provide the Bylaws that state the Treasurer is the only authorized board member on matters of financial to approve disbursements.”  

Regarding Redding's statement about “a fraudulent payment,” the bookkeeper stated, “I would highly suggest that you touch base with your legal advisor for many reasons. 1. A negative conclusion such as you state if not proven true can be detrimental. 2. This should be discussed with your board members before any such conclusion. 3. A benefit denied is the same as an unpaid bill and therefore easy to conclude that someone is due the payment. Seek guidance on how to mitigate a negative outcome, especially if this is a misinformed issue.”

The following day Redding admitted to the head bookkeeper that as treasurer he did not have the authority to stop such a payment. He did not address the overall matters the bookkeeper brought to his attention. 

On January 13, 2022, the bookkeeper sent Redding another email in which she stated, “Any future disputes and challenge should be kept within your organization and not a part of our processing. Please do not bring the conflict to our staff, they have no solution.”

With Redding, you can almost guarantee there is further irony to the story. About three and a half months earlier, the health reimbursement issue was already front and center. An email thread between board members Redding and Spring exists for September 21, 2021. Then chair Grinberg was copied on each email.

Redding: “Since Sara is entitled to those benefits which would be $600 * 7 or $4,200. If I can't make retroactive changes, then perhaps the District can issue here [sic] a check for that amount. It would be taxable, however.”

Spring: “Thank you. I appreciate your time. How do we know about the retroactive status? Are they researching?”

Redding: “Would you be ok if the District issued you a check for $4,200 grossed up to account for taxes? It is likely the quickest and easiest way to make you whole.”

One more circle back. Redding's emails to and from the bookkeeping service cover January 9-13, 2022. The email from the head of the bookkeeping service with the three numbered cautions to Redding about his use of the phrase “a fraudulent payment” was time stamped 5:40 p.m., January 10th. Redding had sent me an email at 1:18 p.m. that day stating, “ I have filed a complaint with the Mendocino County Grand Jury indicating that Sara Spring attempted to embezzle money from the District.” He included Amy McColley in the grand jury complaint, claiming she was complicit.

At a meeting later in the winter of 2022, the MCHCD Board, on a 5-0 vote, John Redding included, formally approved the $4,200 health reimbursement.

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