With no warning, at 10:20 p.m. after a closed session on Feb. 9, the El Camino board of directors announced that by a 3-2 vote, Graham's contract would not be renewed.
From that moment on, this one-vote majority of this publicly-elected board has given no indication about their reasoning for terminating Graham. But it did issue a statement noting his accomplishments during his nearly five years at the helm.
And oddly, whatever caused the breakup was not serious enough for the board to order Graham to vacate the hospital campus immediately. Instead, the board issued a brief statement saying that during the transition period, Graham "...will have full authority and responsibility as president and CEO" until his contract expires on June 30.
Graham has been virtually silent about the dismissal, issuing a brief statement, saying, "as with all CEOs, it is my role to serve at the will of the board," and "The El Camino Hospital team has had many accomplishments in the past four and a half years, and I am confident that the hospital will continue to do very well."
So far, at least, no one at El Camino has broken the bond of silence around Graham's ouster. The three board members who engineered the dismissal, board chair Wesley Alles, and members Patricia Einarson and Uwe Kladde, have steadfastly refused to comment. A hospital spokesperson, Chris Ernst, refers all queries to the "executive employment agreement" that apparently is behind the refusal of board members and Graham to even hint at what went wrong in the relationship.
The agreement's "Non-Disparagement" paragraph says both parties "...agree not to take action or make any statements that could cause the other party or parties any embarrassment or humiliation or otherwise reflect negatively on the parties or cause the other parties to be held in disrepute." It goes on to say that in the event of a violation, the "aggrieved party" has the right to seek legal relief.
In our view this boilerplate stipulation in Graham's contract should not trump the public's right to know why the CEO lost his job. Why can't this turn of events be discussed in the open without "disparaging" either Graham or the board?
Rather than restrict the flow of information, the contract should allow both sides to make a statement so the hospital's staff and the public have some idea about what happened.
The board's action has been roundly criticized by Willem P. Roelandts, a member of the hospital's foundation board, who said the decision has already hurt the foundation's fund-raising ability.
"I felt that it was very unprofessionally done," he told the Voice during a recent interview. Roelandts said he and other board members were frustrated, angered and "dumbounded" by the decision, which the foundation learned about after it had been made public.
Roelandts said he and his board colleagues received calls from donors asking if the hospital is faltering. He said he is sure the hospital will lose out on donations as a result of Graham's departure.
The impact of Graham's termination, and the way it was handled, leaves a black eye on the hospital that won't heal until the board makes it clear what caused the break-up. The board members are elected by residents of the district and entrusted to operate the hospital in an open and above-board fashion.
In this situation, we believe the El Camino board has its priorities out of order. It is the residents of the district, the employees of the hospital and the patients who should be served first by a fully transparent and open board of directors. Anything less is simply a violation of the trust placed in the board by its shareholders, who are the residents of the district and voted to create the district in the first place.