Alameda Med Counts Board Votes to Fire Trustee, By: J. Douglas Allen Taylor

Friday March 17, 2006

A vote by Alameda County Supervisors this week to remove a controversial trustee from the board of the Alameda County Medical Center may not necessarily stop pending legal action against the county for her original removal from the board. 

“If the court says I can continue, I will continue,” former trustee Gwen Rowe-Lee Sykes said by telephone. “If the court says I can’t, then it’s up to the taxpayers of Alameda County to look into the problems at the medical center.” 

The ACMC Board of Trustees oversees several of Alameda County’s public medical institutions, including Highland Hospital and the John George Psychiatric Clinic. 

Sykes’ off-again, on-again, off-again saga began in February when Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson informed medical center trustees that Sykes “will no longer serve on the Alameda County Medical Center Board of Trustees.” Carson, who nominated Sykes to the board in 2004, said in an interview that he had removed her because of complaints from “a majority of her colleagues” on the board, who Carson said were “having a difficult time conducting business” because of her actions during meetings. 

Sykes called those allegations of disruption “false, unless disruption means not allowing people to steal money from the hospital.” During her tenure on the board, Sykes repeatedly criticized the board over management and doctors’ contracts. 

In response to Carson’s notice of removal, Sykes filed legal action in  

California Superior Court in Oakland, stating that only the full county Board of Supervisors—not one supervisor—were empowered to remove a trustee from the Medical Center Board. Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie agreed with that assertion in an earlier interview with the Daily Planet. Sykes was allowed to participate in the March board of trustees meeting after board president J. Bennett Tate and board clerk Barbara Miller-Elegbede had originally informed her that Carson had removed her. 

On Tuesday, an item to remove Sykes from the medical center board was placed on the county board of supervisors’ consent calendar, and supervisors approved it along with the rest of the calendar without debate. Sykes said that neither she nor her attorney were notified that her removal would be on the agenda, and did not attend the meeting because of a prior business commitment. 

In her later interview, Sykes criticized the supervisors for placing her removal on the consent calendar, where matters are passed en masse without debate on individual items. “That type of action is smothering the concerns,” Sykes said. “It’s the same type of smothering that’s taking place with issues affecting the entire medical center.” 

Three citizens spoke up for Sykes at the supervisors meeting, including Berkeley resident Jackie DeBose and health professional Edith Davis of the Bay Area Consortium, asking that the supervisors postpone their vote to give Sykes a chance to come before them and defend herself. Albany resident Greg Miller asked supervisors to “strongly reconsider your action. I’ve known Dr. Sykes for 10 years. She’s always been a strong advocate. Certainly she causes waves, but isn’t that what we want?””