El Dorado County supervisors block Santiago’s commission appointment
July 25, 2017
Citing his concern over "loyalty," District 3 El Dorado County Supervisor Brian Veerkamp strongly objected to appointing former District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago to the county Mental Health Commission's South Lake Tahoe Council.
The recommendation was included on the July 17 Board of Supervisors' consent calendar. Veerkamp pulled it off consent for discussion, telling his fellow board members he had trouble with appointing someone who had previously sued the county.
In 2015 Santiago — whose former district includes South Lake Tahoe — joined former District 4 Supervisor Ron Briggs, who recently announced his intentions to run for county recorder-clerk, in a lawsuit against the county alleging they were owed back pay. The former supervisors argued that changes made to the calculations of other elected department heads' salaries also applied to supervisors and they should be compensated accordingly.
In October 2016 a Placer County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the county, stating that Briggs and Santiago failed to convince the court of their claims. The case was moved to Placer County due to conflicts with El Dorado County judges. No appeals have been filed.
The county spent nearly $70,000 on attorney's fees and other expenses related to the case.
In light of the lawsuit and its outcome, Veerkamp questioned whether Santiago, as a member of the Mental Health Commission, would make decisions "in the best interest of the county." The commission makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors related to Mental Health Services Act funding and expenditures and also weighs in on other mental health related issues.
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Commission Chair Jim Abram acknowledged that "there's a history" between Santiago and the county but argued in favor of the appointment, telling supervisors that commission seats are hard to fill; Santiago was the only person to apply for one of two vacancies. Her appointment would also fulfill diversity requirements, he noted.
Abram told the board that Santiago has first-hand experience with county mental health as a family member of someone who has received services and she has attended commission meetings. He said he thinks these factors and her experience on the Board of Supervisors will help her make informed decisions.
"She's been an advocate for mental health issues over the years," said Abram, adding that Santiago would be only one voice on the 16-member commission and that since she's filling a recently vacated seat, her term would end on Jan. 1, 2018. She could reapply for a full three-year term.
Mental Health commissioners are not compensated for their service but are reimbursed "for actual and necessary expenses, as specified in the California Welfare and Institutions Code," state the commission bylaws.
District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen asked county counsel Mike Ciccozzi if there was a conflict in appointing someone who had previously sued the county to a position on a county committee/commission or if doing so made the county "vulnerable" in any way.
Ciccozzi said he couldn't see any legal risk in approving the appointment. It was noted that in at least one other case a person who participated in a lawsuit against the county served on a county committee without conflict.
Veerkamp was not convinced and he made a motion to reject the recommendation to appoint Santiago. District 4 Supervisor Michael Ranalli seconded the motion, which failed on a 2-2 vote. Supervisors Frentzen and John Hidahl voted no and District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel recused herself. Frentzen followed with a motion to support the appointment but that motion died for lack of a second, effectively ending Santiago's bid to serve on the commission.