VENTURA COUNTY: Clerk Offers No Defense in Tobacco Settlement Suit
In the latest development in the fight over Ventura County's tobacco settlement, County Clerk Richard Dean admitted yesterday to all charges filed against him and the Board of Supervisors in Community Memorial Hospital's lawsuit, the Los Angeles Times reports. CMH is suing the county for its refusal to include an initiative on the November ballot that would distribute the $260 million tobacco settlement between seven private hospitals. County supervisors declared the initiative unconstitutional and vowed to spend the money on health care programs. However, CMH officials fear that the county will use the funds to cover budget shortfalls. Offering no defense to the charges, Dean maintained that the county has no authority to keep the initiative off the ballot and that he was merely following the orders of county supervisors. Insisting that he is not taking sides on the issue, Dean said that he is "simply trying to uphold the law and prepare for the upcoming elections." CMH spokesperson Mark Barnhill said, "Basically [Dean's] saying everything in the CMH filing is accurate. The clerk himself recognizes that this should be on the ballot." The Ventura County Superior Court will hear the case July 24 (Kelly, 7/14).
In Other Tobacco Settlement News ...
Solano County junior high schools, community health clinics and the homeless stand to benefit from the county's $4.5 million share of the tobacco settlement under a plan county supervisors will consider next week, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Offered by County Administrator Michael Johnson, the plan would divide $3.2 million of the settlement evenly between county health programs, community health organizations and a special fund for "fiscal uncertainties." Johnson devised the plan after talking with residents in a series of county workshops on how the settlement money should be spent. Under Johnson's proposal, community clinics would receive $444,817, non-county health care agencies would receive $365,000, and county health programs, including a homeless day center, would get $1,035,000. The remaining $1.4 million would be devoted to the county's fiscal uncertainty fund. Board of Supervisors Chair Barbara Kondylis, who supports the proposal, noted that the county's 65,000 uninsured residents would benefit most from a boost in community clinic funding. The county has already earmarked $600,000 a year of the money for the countywide ambulance service and $365,000 for the county drug court. Supervisors will discuss the tobacco settlement at Tuesday's meeting (Heredia, 7/14).