Health Foundation Sues County

UPDATE: A ruling is expected by 5pm Friday. Check back for a breakdown of Thursday’s court proceedings and the judge’s decision.—Editor

The Santa Clara Family Health Foundation has sued the County of Santa Clara to stop it from releasing documents about its financial transactions. The documents were requested by Metro Newspapers 30 days ago under the California Public Records Act. The foundation’s request for a temporary restraining order goes to court this morning.

Metro argues that the Health Foundation is subject to the public records act since it maintains offices in a building leased by a county agency, is operated by a county employee and was set up by a county agency. On April 26, foundation board president Dana Ditmore wrote Metro saying that the public records act “does not apply to the Foundation, as it is a private, non-profit corporation. Therefore the foundation is not obligated to and elects not to produce any records responsive to your Request.”

Metro then requested records from the County of Santa Clara. County officials and attorneys believe the law requires public disclosure and were preparing to release the records when attorneys for the foundation took legal action to prevent their release.

Last year, the Health Foundation gave $400,000 to two organizations controlled by county supervisor candidate Cindy Chavez: a $150,000 outreach contract with Chavez’s Working Partnerships USA and $250,000 to the “Yes on A” sales tax campaign, which subsequently passed $100,000 to South Bay Labor Council and Democratic Central Committee campaign organizations. At the time, Chavez was CEO of SBLC and subsequently became vice-chair of the DCC while serving as an officer and executive committee member of the Health Foundation.

A court restraining order would prevent or delay release of the information. The election, in which Chavez is facing off against Teresa Alvarado and four other candidates, is 19 days away, and absentee balloting has started.

Metro’s April 16 records request

Santa Clara Family Health Foundation’s court filing

Kathleen King’s Employment Offer from County of Santa Clara.

2 Comments

  1. Why would the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation be so stupid to store its email and documents on the computers owned by a public agency if they were not public documents? 

    The Mercury News should join your legal efforts to shine some light into this murky underworld of non-profits working with county agencies.

  2. The Santa Clara Family Health Foundation’s 2010 Form 990 lists $278,356 in “Reportable Compensation from related organizations” for Elizabeth Darrow.  Ms. Darrow is a board member and also the CEO of the Santa Clara Family Health Plan, the public agency.  So for tax reporting purposes, the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation acknowledges the public agency as a “related organization”.

    The laundry list in the Metro’s public records request relate to huge political campaign contributions by the “private” nonprofit.  Since there is a self-acknowledged linkage between the “private” nonprofit, and the public entity, there is cause to believe that the prohibitions in California State law about the use of public facilities and public funds being for political campaigns might have been violated.

    I think the Foundation will probably get the restraining order, but there is no way that the Metro won’t get access to the documents it wants.  It’s just a matter of time.

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