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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Dispute Arises Over Status of Mental Health Board Member

County: Lita Biejo decided to quit, but then changed her mind. Not everyone wants her back.

March 08, 2000|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Months after a flap over the ouster of its chairman, the Ventura County Mental Health Board has a new controversy: Whether one of its members can un-resign.

The member in question is Lita Biejo of Moorpark, who at weekly Board of Supervisors' meetings is known to deliver scathing admonishments of government officials. Her style has also irritated various members of the Mental Health Board, on which she has served the past four years.

So when she decided to leave her position and then changed her mind, other members have been reluctant to welcome her back.

Biejo stormed out of last month's board meeting, announcing she would resign after members rejected her bid to take over the chairmanship and other executive positions. After a confrontation with an advocate, she returned home, cooled down and reconsidered. She immediately wrote to the board--whose members had appointed her to the mental health panel--asserting she did not want to step down.

In the meantime, some members believe they were accepting her resignation--and they are not eager to have her return.

"She resigned in the meeting. Please!" board member Cathleen Higgins said. "The things that woman has done are just incorrigible."

Biejo said she wouldn't be surprised to learn some members "were high-fiving, saying, 'We finally got rid of her.' " She said some members don't like her because she is critical of their performance and any conflicts of interest. "I've made so many enemies just by doing my job," she said.

Board Chairman Neal Andrews said Tuesday he has asked Jim McBride, county counsel, for an opinion on whether Biejo did or didn't resign, and if she did, whether she can revoke her own decision.

McBride is expected to issue his findings later this week. Andrews declined to speak in detail on the situation, saying only, "I'm not advocating one way or the other."

Several board members did not return calls Tuesday.

It was unclear to what extent supervisors will be involved in deciding the matter. Supervisor John Flynn, who also sits on the Mental Health Board, said he would like to see Biejo stay on.

"I think she offers a point of view that needs to be on the board," Flynn said. Supervisor Frank Schillo said he also supports Biejo's continued membership on the board. The 56-year-old Biejo, a native of the Philippines, is a former associate professor of physics and a longtime advocate for the mentally ill. Several of her relatives, she said, have battled mental illness.

The Mental Health Board has its hands full with policy issues. Members agree there is a severe housing shortage for the county's mentally ill, and that money for construction and programs must be set aside to improve conditions.

But over the past several months, internal politics have competed with the policy debate. Last September the board's chairman, John Chaudier, was ousted by supervisors in a move critics said was triggered by his support of an ill-fated merger of the county's health and social services agencies.

Biejo had campaigned for Chaudier's ouster, saying Chaudier let politics get in the way of his job. She subsequently campaigned for the ouster of Shlomo Kreitzer, a retired psychiatrist--and friend of Chaudier--who was in the running for the chairman's post.

Kreitzer resigned from the board, following a fight he and Biejo had over a canceled board meeting. Kreitzer, who is Jewish, maintained he was skipping the meeting because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday of the year. Biejo insisted it was in protest of Chaudier's ouster.

Biejo said Tuesday her resignation was a hasty move made in the throes of humiliation, after a board member accused her of making baseless complaints against other members.

"I am trained as a physicist," she said. "When I make a decision, I always arrive at my conclusion through the scientific method. He made me feel like . . . I couldn't take it. I felt so pitiful, I grabbed my things and said, 'That's it, I quit.' But I can never quit my advocacy for the mentally ill. They cannot accept my resignation.

"I'm either stupid, or really dedicated," she said. "All I want is to make a difference."

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