When it came to dining, drinking, traveling, some DHCD directors used the agency credit card like open cash register

PALM SPRINGS — The abrupt dismissal of Dr. Conrado Barzaga, CEO of Desert Healthcare District, has raised more than eyebrows in recent weeks — largely due to clear evidence of questionable practices and judgement by the CEO, uncovered in public documents Uken Report has requested. Now coming to light is the purchase of buying cigars and alcohol at a bar at taxpayers’ expense as though the District’s coffers were an open cash register drawer.

It is not clear who made the alcohol and tobacco purchase.

So, how did the conflicts of interest, violation of travel policy and more go unchecked for so long? Where was the board oversight? Was the board literally rubberstamping items? What policies are in place to prevent this in the future?

Chris Christensen, interim CEO and Chief Administration Officer, declined to answer any questions for this article.

Following examination of board and committee meeting minutes, including expense reports filed by board and staff members for more than two months, it appears that the District was being used as an open cash register for travel and entertainment for the CEO and his friends and family members, certain board members and for the CEO to support at least one grant recipient for which the CEO had a clear conflict of interest.

There are also examples of members of the board, with the CEO support, breaching travel policies. It also appears that board members, until recently, were less than diligent in overseeing operations. The CEO operated with a liberty that most boards would have reined in early on when the tendency to overstep and overspend became evident. While there were questions by some board members, the majority overruled and fought any effort to question or limit it.

Perhaps they are now awake.

The Desert Healthcare District is a local government agency. Most government agencies have clear travel policies, reimbursement policies, and more in place. Why there are so few basic spending guidelines at DHCD is not clear.

Actions of those individuals have been putting staff in uncomfortable circumstances. They know money is being spent inappropriately but must approve the spending requests as their superiors are stating it is OK.

They admit on this video that money was being were used to buy cigars and alcohol at a bar at taxpayers’ expense. https://dhcd.org/media/2669/11-13-23%20Board%20and%20Staff%20Communications%20and%20Policies%20Committee%20Meeting%20Video%20Recording.mp4

Here is a brief outtake of the meeting as the DHCD Policy Committee attempts to tighten language in board policy to address these issues.

Director Leticia De Lara: “This is basic common sense…do we really want to identify everything…?

De Lara: “There has never been a problem, why are we spelling this out?”

Les Zindle: “There was a problem having to do with cigars…” (He did not name the person who purchased the cigars and said he would not comment when Uken Report reached out for comment.)

Chris Christensen: “There were funds used to pay for cigars and alcohol at a bar and they were expensed.”

President Evett Perez: “It’s sad that we have to tell people…”

Chris Christensen: “I agree it does not make sense we have to spell this out like little children.” But you get the chosen few who like to say it’s not in policy… then it puts staff in some compromising situations.

Start listening at 5:10 into the meeting and by 13.50 minutes — they admit money was used inappropriately. It’s worth your time.

It also shows that they are trying to limit which conferences directors will attend. They are leaning towards prohibiting expenses and attendance at meetings for which there is no specific nexus to healthcare.

They are also trying to address the meal allowance at “fancy dinners” and who is being entertained.  They are trying to avoid a $100 entree item and come up with a per diem amount per day per meal.

Directors appear poised to shut the cash register drawer. How they do it remains the question.





Image Sources

  • American,Dallar,Notes,And,Coins,Inside,The,Cash,Register,Machine: Shutterstock