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Canales sends city letter, offers mediation for Health District dispute

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Posted at 5:33 PM, Oct 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-24 01:38:47-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The ongoing saga surrounding the City of Corpus Christi's decision to dissolve the joint Public Health District with Nueces County took another turn Saturday.

Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales fired back Saturday, sending a strongly worded letter to Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni and other city leaders.

In the letter, Canales outlined several reasons why the city can not dissolve the public health district partnership, including a provision in a 2009 contract which says both parties have to agree on dissolution.

In it's almost 40 years in existence, the contracts governing operations have been amended numerous times, including in 2012 when it was amended to clarify points about the health director's, assistant health director's and nurse practitioner's pay; over changes to employees' pay grades in 2013; and about cost sharing between the city and county in 2018.

Canales also accused the city of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Speaking by phone, Zanoni says the city is able to dissolve the partnership, and says the city’s actions were proper.

“We believe that all allegations raised in the letter are weak arguments, and we anticipated every one of them,” Zanoni said. “We believe that the contract that governs the health district today clearly allows the withdrawal with a 90-day notice for either party to do.”

Canales however, disagrees with that assessment. She also wants to move forward in the relationship with the city. In her letter, Canales recommended mediation between the parties, something she believes is in the everyone's best interest.

“It's really not a matter of interpretation at this point, it's a matter of public health and doing what's right for your community,” Canales said. “It's unfortunate that he doesn't see that email as the olive branch that it is, it's also intended to point out to to him that legally they've done something that is not correct.”

As we’ve reported, the city wants to improve the health district’s business model. There are also concerns over the amount of overtime paid to some health district employees, including Public Health Director Annette Rodriguez.

Since the start of the pandemic, five employees have made more than $600,000 in overtime, more a third of that to Rodriguez alone.

Those five are city employees, but 40 percent of their salaries are paid by the county. In March 2020, their status was changed from salary to hourly making them eligible for overtime.