The county's chief administrative officer and the head of the Planning Department were both cleaning out their desks last month.
Embattled CAO Chris Arnold officially submitted her resignation March 11 in closed session of the Board of Supervisors. She had served nearly five years and was assistant CAO prior to that.
Arnold, who is responsible for preparing the preliminary county budget and advising the board on fiscal and policy matters, was under increasing pressure and criticism the last two to three years. One year the board faced a surprise budget shortfall and another year a surprise surplus -- both due to accounting errors or misinformation.
Tom Conlon, head of the county Planning Department, also attended a closed session with the board March 11 and submitted his resignation one week later after reaching a settlement agreement.
"The official line is that I resigned," said Conlon, a 20-year veteran of the department.
Conlon occasionally became a lightning rod for public anger and frustration over building code enforcement and land use issues.
The supervisors appointed Public Works Director John Murray as interim administrative officer as the board headed toward budget hearings for 1997-98. He will be assisted in the budget preparation by Auditor/Controller Neil Prince.
St. Joseph Hospital Heart Institute got some good news and some bad news last month. The newly completed facility passed state inspection "with flying colors," according to hospital spokesman Roger Martin. But the first open heart surgery ever to be performed in Humboldt County has been delayed about two months due to medical problems of the lead surgeon.
Dr. Timothy J. Mullins, who underwent neck surgery earlier this year, has been placed on disability and had to withdraw from the program. The hospital has resumed its search for a chief cardiac surgeon and medical director of the Heart Institute.
St. Joseph is also ready to start delivering babies again in mid-May after nearly 25 years (see story, page 10).
In other medical news, General Hospital announced that CEO Gary McCormack is leaving to become vice president of operations at Brim Healthcare Group in Portland, Ore.
General Hospital is part of Brim Healthcare, which was spun off by its parent corporation, Brim & Associates, Inc. in January and merged with Principal Hospital Co. of Nashville, Tenn. At the time there were cuts at General that resulted in 34 fewer positions.
Principal Hospital Co. now owns seven hospitals and manages another 53 hospitals in 22 states. It is the nation's No. 5 for-profit hospital operator, according to Modern Healthcare magazine.
Principal announced last month that David S. Wanger will take over as CEO at General Hospital effective April 1. Wanger most recently served as CEO and administrator of Sierra View District Hospital in Porterville, Calif.
Humboldt County physicians and a large health insurer have locked horns over one of the most divisive issues in health care: money.
HealthNet has contracted with Humboldt-Del Norte Independent Practice Association for about five years to provide services for the 9,000 people insured by the company on the North Coast. The two groups started renegotiating their contract about six months ago, and until recently they appeared to be headed for a break up.
As negotiations bogged down, HealthNet began negotiating directly with individual doctors -- the very thing that physicians intended to avoid by forming their IPA.
At least one doctor reported that some of his HealthNet-insured patients were being told by the company that it would no longer pay for his services.
But in late March, Patrick Okey, director of the IPA, said that HealthNet and the group were nearing a compromise solution.
According to Okey and a spokesperson for HealthNet, the issue separating the two was how to divide the premiums paid by clients.
Now that "managed care" has all but completely replaced the old "fee-for-service" arrangements -- in which physicians were paid by insurance companies for services performed -- physicians are assuming a portion of the risk that insurance companies used to bear alone, according to Okey.
State Sen. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission last month signalling his intent to challenge Rep. Frank Riggs in the 1998 election.
Democratic party leaders had urged Thompson to challenge Riggs, R-Windsor, in 1992 and again in 1994. He declined to run both times.
Thompson is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term in the state Senate. However, term limits are being challenged in federal court.
Michela Alioto of St. Helena, who ran unsuccessfully against Riggs in 1996, is quoted as saying she plans to run again in 1998 even if Thompson enters the race.
Tribal casinos throughout California will remove video slot machines by May 1 as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, according to news reports. Gov. Pete Wilson had sought for several years to have the machines removed, but only federal authorities can regulate tribal-owned casinos.
Layoffs at casinos are likely, but operators of the two casinos in Humboldt County -- Cher-Ae Heights in Trinidad and Lucky Bear in Hoopa -- did not return phone calls for comment on how the change would affect their employment.
In mid-March, Northwestern Pacific Railroad renewed freight service between Arcata and Willits after a two-and-a-half-month shutdown caused by the New Year's floods.
Temporary repairs have allowed the railroad to send trains with 15 loaded cars through the Eel River Canyon; ordinarily, up to 30 cars can be taken at a time. "We're running short trains now as we continue to judge the track," said Dan Hauser, executive director.
The timber companies that use the road for shipping lumber had to shift all freight to trucks after the storms. "It puts a strain on the local truck capacity," said Dennis Wood, shipping manager for Pacific Lumber Co. and a member of the railroad board. "We just had to go out and find other people out of the area who were interested in trucking." Wood said the shift to trucking added about 10 percent to freight costs.
Hauser said he hopes that Intermodal Surface Transportation funds will be available soon to create permanent improvements that will make the railroad less susceptible to slides and washouts.
He also noted that the railroad has received money to upgrade the long-unused Arcata/Mad River line to Korbel, perhaps even with a biking and walking trail alongside the tracks.
Dune buggy drivers, bird-watchers, strollers, surfers and fishermen will continue to share the southern end of Humboldt Bay's south spit under a management plan drafted by the Bureau of Land Management.
The plan follows land-use decisions made in recent years that restricted OHV use to certain areas of the north spit (although citizen "dune-watchers" contend that OHV trespassing is common).
The BLM's plan includes improving the existing off-road vehicle area, and this has provoked some opposition. "BLM acknowledges that about 80 percent of the users of this area are not off-highway-vehicle enthusiasts, (but) they propose to spend $750,000 almost entirely on projects used by OHVs," wrote Glenn Stockwell in an April 13 letter to the Times-Standard.
The BLM has extended its comment period to April 21. To obtain a copy of the draft plan, contact the Arcata Resource Area office at 825-2300.
Arcata and unincorporated McKinleyville are both trying to get citizens involved in the often-tedious, always-lengthy process of updating their communities' general plans.
On April 26, both communities will host day-long events; in Arcata, it's the Arcata 2020 Festival, and the town's General Plan Task Force promises lots of "creative, participatory activities." Call 822-5955 for more information.
McKinleyville's workshop is called Planning a More Livable McKinleyville. It costs $10 but includes lunch and refreshments. Call the Local Government Commission at (916) 448-8246 to register by April 18.
In other planning news, Humboldt County is in the process of updating the "housing element" for the general plan affecting unincorporated areas. Among the planners' proposals for meeting the needs of low-income people: allow "nomadic housing" camps, less restrictions on building second dwellings and allowing some smaller lot sizes in new subdivisions.
These ideas have sparked some opposition, and the Planning Commission directed staff to make revisions. The plan goes back to the commission in April. Contact Michael Richards, 445-7541 extension 23, for more information.
In Eureka, the five-year process of updating that city's general plan was completed in February, with unanimous approval by the City Council, sitting as the Redevelopment Agency. The plan targets the downtown "core area" for commercial development. It lies between the waterfront and Third Street, between A Street and the Carson Mansion, with an extension inland to Eighth Street between E and G streets.
Responding to protests in Trinidad, Arcata and in Mendocino County, Caltrans agreed in March to stop using chemical herbicides in those areas. The agency also said it would stop spraying anywhere else in the North Coast if local governments asked it to stop, according to published reports.
Andrea Tuttle, an environmental planner, marine ecologist and former Humboldt State University professor, was appointed to the California Coastal Commission in March by newly elected Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamente. Tuttle was appointed with four others, and she joins Eureka Mayor Nancy Flemming, an appointee of Gov. Pete Wilson, on the commission.
The Times-Standard was sold for the second time in four months. Its new corporate parent is Media General of Richmond, Va. According the company, the Times-Standard is the first daily newspaper it has owned outside of the Southeastern United States.
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