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Hearing on Tobacco Fund Measure OKd

May 10, 2000|COLL METCALFE

The Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to allow the Mental Health Advisory Board to hold a public hearing on a proposed initiative that would transfer control of a $261-million tobacco settlement from county government to administrators of private hospitals.

No date has been set for the hearing, but it would be the first time the public has had the chance to speak on the issue of how the settlement should be used, county officials said.

"I think it's an important thing to do," county Chief Administrative Officer Harry Hufford said. "I think the public is entitled to discuss the pros and cons of this initiative."

The referendum, sponsored by Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, was launched after supervisors voted to use $10 million of the tobacco dollars to pay federal health-care penalties and bolster the county's depleted general fund.

Community Memorial officials said they would welcome any public debate on the initiative but are concerned that county leaders may be using the advisory board as a tool to campaign against it.

Community Memorial officials have requested a copy of the advisory board's minutes to see who brought up the idea of the public hearing. Supervisor John K. Flynn of Oxnard also sits on the mental health board.

"We are concerned that certain county officials are using taxpayer money to campaign against the initiative, and that's illegal," hospital spokesman Mark Barnhill said.

Supervisors also agreed to amend the advisory board's bylaws to set term limits on members, an action that will effectively oust outspoken member Lita Biejo.

In a unanimous vote, supervisors changed the bylaws so that advisory board members may serve only two consecutive years. Biejo, a Moorpark resident, has served on the board for four years and has earned a reputation for her blistering admonishments of government officials and fellow board members.

The change is not retroactive, so Biejo will be allowed to serve two more years before being required to step down, officials said.

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