The acting director of Ventura County's Behavioral Health Department should be removed from office because he lacks the experience to run the 560-employee organization, a leading mental health advocate has demanded.
Interim Director Dave Gudeman is the target of a terse letter sent April 22 to county supervisors by John Chaudier, chairman of the Ventura County Mental Health Board.
In the letter, Chaudier implies Gudeman, a psychiatrist who has worked for the county for less than two years, lacks the managerial skills necessary to lead the department out of turmoil.
"The clients . . . and the people of this county need someone with skills in management, budgeting, supervision, personnel and in working with advocates and mental health boards," Chaudier wrote in the letter to Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand.
But Durand defended Gudeman. Instead of firing him, Durand said he may promote him.
"His performance has been exceptional," Durand rebutted in a letter to the board. "I am considering Dr. Gudeman for permanent appointment to the position. . . . He will bring much needed stability to the department."
Gudeman, 39, replaced Stephen Kaplan in March after Kaplan was forced to resign in the wake of the county's ill-fated attempt to merge Behavioral Health with the county's social services agency.
Federal authorities ruled that the reorganization violated billing rules and threatened to withhold millions of dollars in county reimbursements. As a result, county supervisors rescinded the merger Dec. 22., about nine months after it went into effect.
Kaplan supported the merger, but Durand opposed it. Chaudier, who was a staunch supporter of the merged agency, was unavailable for comment Friday. But mental health advocates say Chaudier dislikes Gudeman because Gudeman was opposed to the merged agency.
Although the superagency was dismantled, the merger issue is not dead. County officials are attempting to reestablish some portions of the merged agency.
"Gudeman is the guy who is trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again," said Dick Clemence, another mental health advocate. "This represents the end of the merger, and Chaudier hates it. If Gudeman is successful, the merger is totally finished."
Saying he spoke on behalf of the 15-member board, Chaudier said that under Gudeman's leadership, "many staff are fearful, the anxiety level is high and morale seems to be low."
But members of the Mental Health Board said the letter did not represent their sentiments.
"I was appalled to read your memorandum to Dr. Pierre Durand," board member Lita Biejo chided Chaudier in a letter.
"He did not discuss anything with me or with the others," Biejo said in an interview Friday. "I'm a member of the board and should have been included in the discussion."
Biejo said she is pushing to get Chaudier removed as chairman of the board. Chaudier, she said, violated the board's bylaws when he claimed to represent the entire group.
"He did the same thing when supervisors approved the despicable merger," Biejo said. "He said we supported the merger and we did not."
Supervisor John Flynn also said Chaudier was out of line. Flynn said he supported hiring Gudeman as director. Besides acting as interim director overseeing the Behavioral Health Department, Gudeman is medical director. Flynn said Gudeman may be given the top job within two weeks.
"He ought to be appointed right away," Flynn said. "No question about it."