MARTINEZ -- Four civil grand juries, a dozen high-voltage editorials and one stinging consultant's report later, Contra Costa regulators pulled the plug Wednesday on the central county's hospital-less public health care district.
The Local Agency Formation Commission unanimously disbanded the Mt. Diablo Health Care District's five-member elected board, shrank its borders and assigned its funds to Concord.
The Concord City Council will take on the task of spending the roughly $200,000 a year in property taxes generated in a smaller public health care district, which will consist of Concord and Pleasant Hill. The district no longer includes Martinez and slivers of Lafayette, Clayton and Walnut Creek.
In addition, Concord and Pleasant Hill will share the district's five seats -- three and two, respectively -- on the John Muir Community Health Foundation board. The formation of the nonprofit organization was mandated as part of a 1996 voter-approved transfer of the district's financially ailing Concord hospital to John Muir Health, which provides the foundation $1 million a year for health services grants.
The commission's vote comes on the brink of Friday's candidate filing deadline for four health care district seats and eliminates the need for an expensive election to a board that regulators had vowed to dissolve one way or the other.
For the district's vocal critics, the move comes none too soon.
"We got involved in this issue because we believed the good work of three, and now four, civil grand juries was being ignored," said Contra Costa Taxpayers Association Executive Director Kris Hunt, whose organization filed the official dissolution request with the Formation Commission.
But it was the commission's hired consultant who sealed the district's fate when he reported that the district had spent the vast majority of its money since 2000 on elections, legal bills, lifetime health care benefits and overhead costs rather than direct health services.
A Bay Area News Group investigation also revealed that the district had provided a $50,000 grant of taxpayer money to a ex-felon for the operation of a homeless services program with questionable results.
The district's elected board tried to turn things around in the past six months.
They hired a professional executive director who helped the district launch its first competitive community grant program. It awarded a total of $180,000 last month to programs such as the food bank, healthy eating and mobile medical clinic for the poor.
But its efforts proved insufficient in the face of the lengthy and weighty case against the district.
Residents voiced particular anger at the free lifetime medical and dental insurance benefits provided to health district elected board member Grace Ellis, and Ron Leone, a former director and the mayor of Concord.
Both recently cashed out their benefit and released their claims for future coverage.
Ellis received $58,000.
Leone negotiated a $150,000 charitable deferred annuity through the American Cancer Society. If Leone or his wife should find themselves without insurance, they may tap into the money. All unused proceeds will to go to the cancer society.
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773 or @lvorderbrueggen.