Tensions Rise at El Centro City Council Meeting
EL CENTRO – A potential boycott against the El Centro Regional Medical Center led by the Imperial Valley Coalition for Life of has been averted, not by any action of the El Centro City Council, or their city-appointed hospital board, but by the Coalition itself in response to a letter sent by the hospital board to hospital staff, a letter the Coalition contends contains an outright lie. The boycott was threatened by those opposed to the transfer agreement signed by the board with Planned Parenthood (PP), which allows PP to perform abortions.
Mayor Efrain Silva, an ex-officio member of the Hospital Trustee Board, responded that within a week the Trustees would publicly announce what the recently hired private council decrees concerning these alleged Brown Act violations, which the council still contend did not occur.
At Tuesday’s, April 8, regular open session meeting, Pastor Pete Mallinger of the Calvary Chapel in El Centro, representing the Coalition, said that the hospital board and city council are still perpetuating the lie that a Transfer Agreement with Planned Parenthood was mandated.
“The truth is, for PP to open a facility that performs abortions, they must have a Transfer Agreement with a hospital, but it is not mandated for any city council to approve such a transfer,” Mallinger said.”By a slight of wording, the letter omitted this significant fact, thus misinforming its staff of truth. The Board has essentially lied to its staff, he stated. If no Transfer is signed, then no requirement would exist for the ECRMC to care for abortions gone wrong, because no abortions at a PP Clinic would be taking place.”
“How embarrassing to have to lie to get out of an inappropriate Brown Act violation,” Mallinger said.
Mallinger announced that in place of a boycott, whose magnitude, he stated, would severely affect hospital and its staff, a baby shower would be held in the courtyard outside the Council chambers during their next regular meeting on May 5. Dr. Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s niece, will be present to address the City Council.
Items for new mothers and their babies will be collected in the courtyard to demonstrate the Coalition’s concern for their own hospital, as they feel the Hospital Board and City Council have demonstrated little concern by jeopardizing the future of hospital jobs, knowing that a boycott was being planned. Yet they continued to stand behind violations of the Brown Act to push through a Transfer Agreement, according to a Coalition flyer.
Council member Cheryl Walker expressed astonishment that Mallinger expected a “thank you” from her and the Council for averting a boycott, something she claimed was coming from the Coalition. Mallinger countered that it was provoked by the cowardly actions of the Board and Council.
In a March 8, 2015, IV Press editorial, the editors wrote, “. . . we do have a problem with the public’s access to how this transfer agreement played out, and how the public was not allowed to air its concerns in an open and honest forum before ECRMC management executed the deal.” This was the point Pastor Patrick Harris of the Seeley Community Church and Seeley County Water District broached in his words expressing the Coalition’s anger and frustration.
To date, the PP Transfer Agreement has not appeared on any open agenda. Public comment has been allowed only public comments.
“When city officials do not discuss the abortion clinic in public, but only in closed session, this denies public input,” Harris said. In response, Walker said that the council welcomes comments, proof is that the council could have handled the transfer and simply “reported out as an ‘Oh by the way.’”
The Coalition contends that that is exactly what occurred.
Member Cheryl Walker attempted to show the board’s transparency by noting that in the last four months, hours of council time have been given to hearing public comment. Harris said she missed the point, because such comments have been allowed only at the start of meetings prior to any agenda item being openly discussed.
City Attorney Kris Becker’s mention of “anticipated litigation” in her closed session report at the opening of the April 7 meeting, and the Council’s responses to the pro-life speakers who have been addressing the council since last January are the only times the Transfer and abortion clinic have come up publically.
Last February 24, the crowd dispersed after the Hospital Board open meeting because it was not on the agenda to be discussed nor inferred in the closed session notes, yet a vote, or straw poll as the Trustee after-the-fact called it, was taken.
Coalition Will Now Focus on Elected Officials
“We insist that our government representatives operate in the open and quit hiding behind illegitimate closed doors,” Harris said. Referring to the averted boycott, he continued, “We will now intensify our focus on the elected officials and administrators who have violated the public trust and ignored the voice of the people.”
Harris read the Coalition’s demand that Hospital Trustees and City Attorney resign or be removed for usurping their authority if amends were not made. He asked for an open discussion and impact study and for the transfer to be revisited to make things right.
Tensions continued to rise when remarks turned to how one stood on the abortion issue itself. Harris cited a council member recently had declared that their oath of office compels them to allow abortions in El Centro. “I was just following orders because I swore an oath,” is the Nuremberg Defense. Harris stated that killing Jews because of an oath to Hitler did not make it right. Roe v. Wade does make abortion right, Harris reasoned.
Marty Ellett spoke less than a minute in a calmer voice, a tone the Mayor immediately thanked him for using. Yet, Ellett stated strongly that he was saddened to see the session going the direction it was, “We (the Coalition) had wanted to work with you as a team,” he said. “The Hospital has stated that it has signed eighteen transfers and had to sign this one so as not to discriminate,” Ellett said. He pointed out that none of the clinics/entities needed the transfer by law, “PP was the only one who does.” Ellett called PP a “bully, forcing themselves on our Community against our will.”
Nicole Rothfleisch of Amaris Ministries that deals with both Foster Parenting and Adoption introduced Shannon Colace of the Coalition to make a presentation. Bulleted points made up the bulk of the presentations, but there was a multi-image diagram of an abortion procedure that included an actual photo of a dismembered infant. Colace said a final slide was not included per the Mayor’s request, because it had been too graphic.
Mayor Silva was visibly moved with the presentation and was the only member to state publicly, “The description, the picture of the procedure . . . This is a horrible procedure.” He continued, “It is not something that I would ask anyone close to me to do.” He stated he had to follow the state law and awaited the return of information from the outside law firm.
Colace closed saying, “If it’s hard for us to look at one slide in a city council meeting, how can we accommodate what will be going on in an abortion clinic very soon across town?”
The last speaker was Elizabeth Hamby sharing a personal story. Her close girlfriend at Orange County High School was taken to a PP clinic for an abortion without parental consent, which is legal in California. This girlfriend returned to school, but her bleeding was so bad that Hamby had to take her to the hospital for emergency care. “Her life was saved,” Hamby shared, “but she no longer would be able to bear children.”