A mailer attacking Lindsay Mann, chief executive officer of the Kaweah Delta Health Care District, is heating up the Measure H hospital bond campaign.
Measure H is a proposed $327 million construction bond to build an acute care hospital by 2030 that meets state earthquake standards.
The mailer, sent by the California Taxpayers Coalition in Irvine, has the headline “Secret Election” and states “Kaweah Delta Hospital’s $850,000-a-year CEO is trying to sneak a tax increase, and he hopes you’re not paying attention.”
The mail-only election was set for May 3 because Mann “couldn’t risk waiting till June, when turnout will be high, so he called a special election just weeks before the June primary,” the mailer states.
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Public documents show that Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi, chief executive officer of HealthCare Conglomerate Associates, which operates Tulare Regional Medical Center under contract, made a large contribution to finance the mailer.
Kaweah Delta is cash-rich and has other ways to pay for expansion.
Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi, Visalia resident and Tulare Regional Medical Center CEO
Benzeevi donated $38,000 to the company that produced the mailer and for automated calls, according to campaign finance documents at the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
The April 7 late independent expenditure report said there were two donors; the other put in $1,000.
Benzeevi issued a statement Wednesday that he is a Visalia resident who opposes the Kaweah Delta hospital project as too expensive.
“I believe in bond measures and have supported those I felt were proper and appropriate for years,” Benzeevi’s statement said.
“I’ve been a resident of Visalia and Tulare County for more than 15 years. I love this community and have worked very hard to improve it. That’s why I’ve worked so hard to save Tulare Regional Medical Center and improve the quality of care there. Having two hospitals serve our greater community is critically important to our residents.
“That’s also why I am in favor of improvements at Kaweah Delta and why I would be a supporter of a bond measure reasonably sized for the necessary improvements. That’s why I am opposing their bond measure in the amount and for the purposes as presented in this specific ballot.”
Carl Anderson, president of the Kaweah Delta Health Care District board of directors, issued his own statement.
The district “was disappointed that Dr. Benzeevi would sponsor a mailer with such inaccurate information,” the statement said.
“The election was authorized by the KDHCD board of directors, not by the CEO,” the statement said. “A mail-in ballot election is hardly secret when the ballot is sent directly to the voter’s home and gives them the convenience of voting without having to travel to a polling place.
A mail-in ballot election is hardly secret when the ballot is sent directly to the voter’s home.
Carl Anderson, Kaweah Delta Health Care District board president
“Election at this time was chosen to give the voters the opportunity to consider this important issue in isolation, unencumbered by the potential distraction of other ballot issues and candidates associated with a general election.”
Anderson’s statement said Benzeevi’s mailer also wrongly claims that there will be a fixed, high tax rate, when the tax rate will fluctuate over the life of the bond.
The health care district has stated that the tax amount for the bond will average $48.70 per year per $100,000 assessed valuation. The front of the mailer states that “Measure H will increase property taxes for a median value home by $175 each year by 2020.”
To pass, the bond measure requires two-thirds voter approval of returned ballots. A total of 57,072 ballots were sent out this month and 12,926 had been returned as of Wednesday.
Through a spokesman, Benzeevi declined a request for an interview.
Jody Graves, a former Kaweah Delta Health Care District board member, said competition between Kaweah Delta Medical Center and Tulare Regional Medical Center may be a factor in Benzeevi’s financial support of the mailer.
Kaweah Delta’s Hospital’s $850,000-a-year CEO is trying to sneak a tax increase, and he hopes you’re not paying attention.
Vote No on Measure H mailer
“His business has been impacted by the strength of Kaweah Delta,” Graves said. “They’ve lost significant market share to Kaweah Delta … To have someone running a public entity to speak out against another – it’s a little out of the ordinary.”
In Visalia, it appears that opposition to Measure H has been quietly building.
A Visalia No on Measure H Facebook page that started at the end of March has 850 “likes” and several comments.
Dr. Byron Riegel, a retired physician and former Kaweah Delta Health Care District board member, said he agrees the community needs a new hospital. But he opposes the bond measure as too expensive when other options are available.
He distanced himself from the mailer and expressed surprise that Benzeevi helped finance it.
“It annoys me,” he said. “I think it’s the wrong tone. I don’t think a personal attack on Lindsay sets the right tone. I wish it had never gone out.”
Kaweah Delta CEO Lindsay Mann’s base salary, approved last year by the board of directors, is $614,000 annually, plus supplemental retirement of $100,000 and potential incentive compensation of up to $150,000, the health care district said.
Kaweah Delta isn’t the only hospital seeking a bond measure – so is Tulare Local Health Care District, which owns Tulare Regional Medical Center.
The district plans to go to voters with a $55 million bond measure to complete an unfinished hospital addition, but the board of directors has yet to set a date for the election.
Sherrie Bell, president of the Tulare Local Health Care District board of directors, said Benzeevi was acting on his own.
“It has nothing to do with the (Tulare) hospital,” she said. “He just happens to be a resident of Visalia.”