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Undermining the Mental Health Board

Over the summer of 2022 we were made aware of the horrifying treatment of one of Sacramento County's Mental Health Board members.

To summarize: the Board member in question was being verbally harassed & abused by a fellow member, and there was absolutely no appropriate response from County staff or Supervisors. In fact the response received included gaslighting and a total dismissal of the significance/importance of the reported abuse. That remains true to this day.

Several pieces have been published covering this ongoing disaster, you can find them below:

On 9/27/22 the Sac County BOS met; on the consent calendar was Item 31 - the purpose of which was to adopt the amended Sacramento County Mental Health Board Bylaws.

This was important because: the amendment would have created a clear and necessary process for removing a Mental Health Board member. This is critical, considering the abuse that is still taking place within the Board, and the fact that the problematic Board member mentioned above has not been removed from their seat.

As stated by a member of the Mental Health Board (background on the item provided by the same member can be found below the quote):

To reject the ByLaw amendment would be a critical mistake, depriving the MHB of a necessary tool needed when a board member engages in behavior repeatedly violating the Conduct Agreement to the detriment of the operation of the advisory board

A little bit of history: the MHB purposefully did not have a removal process bylaw for behavior related to making verbal attacks, insults, and being disrespectful. At least 10+ years ago, a similar issue regarding a board member’s repeated misconduct occurred and the MHB ultimately decided not to seek Board of Supervisor approval to add a removal process bylaw for this type of behavior and instead determined that based on the goals and purpose of the MHB, it would be better to attempt to address these types of issues informally. The thought was if a member’s rude, discourteous, aggressive, etc. behavior was due to a behavioral health issue, the MHB should not take any formal action to remove a member. As a result of the prior situation, the Comfort Agreement was created, basically a set of rules of engagement. This was revised and renamed the Conduct Agreement in March of this year after receiving approval by a majority vote of our Board and adherence to this Agreement is also included in the Board Member Minimum Duties.

The Conduct agreement is read at the beginning of every meeting, and it contains explicit ways in which the members will conduct themselves; it contains statements such as “no personal attacks or criticism of self or others.” The Comfort Agreement had an item which stated, “If Member Consistently Disregards Comfort Agreement, Co-chairs Will Determine a Course of Action.” Over the past year, a significant amount of time has been spent discussing the purpose of the agreement, its inclusion in the Minimum Duties, and why compliance with the agreement is essential for the MHB to meet its purpose.

Regarding the proposed bylaw amendment, the Mental Health Board’s Executive Committee worked on this after it was created as a goal during our Board’s January retreat and continuous counsel by the county counsel representative assigned to our Board was received throughout the process. The amendment was approved by our full Board in early August.

This bylaw amendment is not a process whereby someone could easily be removed just because of natural disagreements that may take place. A lot of time, energy, and intention has gone into this amendment. And even if co-chairs come to the conclusion that all efforts at handling such matter informally have been exhausted and a formal measure is being considered, it must be approved with a 2/3rds majority vote AND the member in question is allowed to present a defense. This creates a transparent and balanced process.

The Mental Health Board recognizes that we do not have the authority to suspend or remove a member that was appointed by a County Supervisor, that authority lies with the member’s appointing supervisor. This amendment explicitly states the process by which the Board’s co-chairs may go about recommending this action, and any recommendation must be approved by a 2/3rds vote of the Mental Health Board. As was shared during the September 1 briefing with your chiefs of staff, this board’s previous chairperson submitted a letter in July recommending the removal of a board member to the appointing supervisor - about which no action has been taken to date.

All MHB members deserve to serve without feeling insulted, degraded or fearful and all members are expected to adhere to the Conduct Agreement. The proposed bylaw amendment is meant to create and foster an environment in which individuals are encouraged to express differing opinions while maintaining decorum and respect. This amendment also serves to protect the integrity of the Behavioral Health Services department, this county at large, and most importantly the individuals with mental illness whose rights we are committed to championing.

So what happened?

Supervisor Kennedy (the BOS Supervisor who sits on the Mental Health Board) pulled this item off consent (where it would have been approved in a vote along with all other consent items) for discussion, and initiated a motion to oppose it. This motion was quickly seconded by Supervisor Desmond.

Ultimately, the amendment was not approved.

The Conduct Agreement remains the same, and the status quo (where there is no removal process) is unchanged. Basically the Supervisors want to keep the process of handling conduction violations "informal". The Mental Health Board members can still submit a removal recommendation, but there's no mechanism guaranteeing any follow-up action/response. Ironically the amendment would have actually formalized the process for creating a removal recommendation because it would have required a 2/3 approval vote from the Board in order to submit. As it is now anyone can submit one at any time.

So, disappointing, to say the least. The BOS' unwillingness to hold members of the Mental Health Board accountable to the values they are supposed to not only be upholding, but ALSO using to guide the County's interaction with people experiencing mental illness is extremely damaging to the community and to the goal of creating a safe and respectful culture surrounding mental health issues. We'll keep you updated if there are any actions to be taken.

The amendment text can be found below:

ARTICLE IV—Membership

Section 8

The Board may request the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to suspend or remove a member from the Board, provided that such action is ratified by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Board and that a statement of the conduct that gave rise to the request for suspension or expulsion shall have been delivered by personal service or mailed, by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, to the Board member under charge to the member's last reported address, at least fourteen (14) calendar days prior to the final action and vote taken thereon. The Board member shall be given the opportunity to present a defense at the time of hearing. Procedures for such proceedings shall be determined at the discretion of the Board.

Cause for suspension or removal shall include any of the following acts committed by a Board member:

a. Continued violation of the Conduct Agreement, or any Bylaws, Board policies, or rules or directives governing member conduct,

b. Unreasonably, unlawfully, or improperly disturbing the peace or harmony of any Board meeting, and/or

c. Engaging in any conduct contrary to the Mental Health Board’s mission.

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