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Spineless

The governor needs to stand up for the public interest, not his friends on the chiropractic board.

March 30, 2007

IT'S ENOUGH TO send shivers down your spine. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appoints some of his pre-"Conan the Barbarian" bodybuilding cronies to the board that licenses chiropractors, and they proceed to stand the agency on its head, improperly meddling in staff investigations and purporting to fire the deputy attorney general who warned them they were breaking the law. Schwarzenegger then makes things worse, declaring that he won't interfere because "the chiropractic board represents the chiropractors."

No, governor, it doesn't. The Board of Chiropractic Examiners is not a trade association but an occupational licensing board. It is supposed to regulate the chiropractic profession in the public interest. No amount of verbal contortion can change that fact.

It's a shame the governor apparently didn't understand the board's purpose when he appointed chiropractor and old friend Richard Tyler, who picked up Schwarzenegger at the airport when he arrived in California in 1968. Or when he appointed chiropractor and two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu, best man at Schwarzenegger's wedding.

The board operates with no oversight and little scrutiny. The Legislature lacks the power to reject nominees, remove misbehaving board members or appoint an enforcement monitor, as it can with most other boards. The law giving the commission virtually unfettered powers was put on the books by voters in 1922, and it can't be altered except by ballot measure.

Fortunately, lawmakers can ask questions, and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) led a joint legislative hearing this week that delved into some of the board's more disturbing moments over the last two months. There were attempts by members to scuttle probes of chiropractors, decision-making conducted by private e-mail and an attempt to use a private attorney for chiropractors in lieu of state lawyers whose advice board members didn't like.

Board Chairman Tyler -- who illegally took on the simultaneous role of executive director after he had the board's top staffer fired -- bent over backward at the hearing to apologize for his misbehavior and to offer new training sessions for himself and his colleagues so they can finally learn what they are supposed to do.

That's too little and too late. Schwarzenegger, however, has the power to rectify this situation. He can sweep out the current members, replacing them with qualified appointees and reversing the attempted capture of the licensing board by the very people the board is supposed to be overseeing.

He should do it, and quickly. State government is public service, not a private club for once-muscular cronies.

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