Conrado Bárzaga served Desert Healthcare District since June 2019
PALM SPRINGS — It didn’t take long last month for news to leak that Conrado Bárzaga was no longer wanted at Desert Healthcare District. Immediately, Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manual Perez and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, both D-Coachella, called for Bárzaga’s reinstatement and for the board to reconsider its decision.
Perez issued a news release: https://ukenreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Supervisor-Perez-Statement-on-Desert-Healthcare-District.pdf
Garcia sent a letter to Board President Evett PerezGil: https://ukenreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Garcia-statement.pdf
Director Les Zendle told Uken Report their pleas to the board of directors to reinstate Bárzaga were “inappropriate.”
“It is inappropriate for a public official to call for reinstatement without understanding this is a confidential employee matter,” Zendle said. “They both should understand that. They deal with confidential employee matters all of the time.”
Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D., said he was “shocked and dismayed to hear of the sudden dismissal of Dr. Conrado Barzaga as CEO of the Desert Healthcare District by the District’s board members,” but did not call for the board to reconsider or to reinstate him.”
“Why would a supervisor stick his nose into a personnel matter that is controlled by an elected board? It was very uncharacteristic of him.”
The chaos surrounding the District began at a special board meeting on Sept. 20. According to the minutes, General Counsel Jeffrey Scott reported that the Board, in closed session, voted 4-3 with Directors Leticia DeLara, Carmina Zavala, and Kimberly Barraza, a senior district representative and policy advisor for State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, opposed directing Scott to take appropriate action concerning the confidential matter related to the CEO’s contract. President Evett Perezgil; Arthur Schorr, treasurer; Carole Rogers; and Zendle supported the effort. What does it say, if anything, that the treasurer had lost confidence in Barzaga?
In July, two months before he was ousted, Bárzaga received a 6%, cost of living adjustment and 4% Merit increase effective July 1, 2023, for a base salary of $298,496, according to a contract amendment.
After searching board minutes and requesting public records, here are just a few breadcrumbs to what we have discovered. We are not suggesting in any way that this is why the board parted ways Barzaga. We do find them interesting.
- There was great angst among board members regarding spending $105K on a formal gala at the Agua Caliente Ballroom in April 2023. After much board discussion, they decided to only allow only $65K from the district, but they called on their grantees (organizations that receive money from the District) to pay the additional $40K. They basically asked them for money back.
- Barzaga’s discretionary funds provided $5,000 for Desert Fast Pitch 2023 Scholarship Funds. Desert Fast Pitch is operated by Regional Access Project Foundation. Board Director Leticia Delara is RAP’s CEO. Why would the Board let a CEO give money directly to an organization run by another Board of Director of DHCD?
- DHCD, a local government agency, has a budget of $9.635 million annually with an administrative cost of $3.732 million, then you realize that their administrative costs are 38.5% of their total budget. Most non-profits like to keep their administrative costs around 20% of total budget. It’s not illegal, but it shows that the district was likely going in the wrong direction when you look at 2022 with $8.46 million budget and $2.46 million administrative costs at only 29%.
Spending on CEO Trips and CEO Sponsorships was another area of interest.
It appears from March 2023, at least one board member, was questioning the need for the CEO Discretionary Fund to double from $25,000 to $50,000 starting with the new fiscal year on July 1, 2023. It took less than three months for the CEO to spend the vast majority of his annual discretionary money ($38,500) on sponsorships, mostly cocktail receptions and galas.
Additionally, this small health care district serving a small area of California, the CEO appeared to be traveling the country non-stop, most recently spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on airfare, fancy hotels, and elaborate dinners, including:
May to August 2023
- Legislative Visit, Sacramento, CA $624.11
- Planned Parenthood 60th Anniversary Dinner in San Diego, $1,343.30
- Grantmaking Conference – Baltimore, MD, $2,712.70
- National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Conference – New York City – Latin Elected Board Officers joined him – $10,743.36
- Grantmakers Conference in Minneapolis, MN, $2,904.35
- National Association of Community Health Workers Annual Meeting, Austin, TX, $2,338.45
- The Association of California Healthcare Districts 71st Annual Meeting, Olympic Valley, CA, multiple staff and Board Members – $9,614.34
Total Trip Expenses for the summer – $30,280.61
Again, no one will confirm or deny that any of this led to Bárzaga’s departure. Today, more than a month after Barzaga was relieved of his duties, there are more questions than answers. Stay tuned.
- Desert Healthcare District logo: Desert Healthcare District & Foundation