Last week’s censure of Julia Miller is the latest in a series of reprimands related to the El Camino Healthcare District board member’s alleged tendency to behave inappropriately and abuse her authority as an elected official.
The district’s board of directors voted 4-1 May 16 to censure Miller after three separate El Camino Hospital employee complaints last year prompted an investigation that confirmed her violations of board standards of conduct. The investigator’s report noted that Miller “engaged in harassing and unprofessional behavior,” either leveling criticism at employees at social events or giving orders she had no authority to give. Many of her issues appeared aimed at the marketing department, which Miller felt didn’t do enough to highlight district achievements, according to the report.
“A majority of the witnesses also stated that Director Miller often treated employees in a demeaning and humiliating way, and made them feel like they were beneath her,” the report stated.
Miller denied the accusations, many of which she said were based on inaccurate information.
She has been stripped of committee assignments and board officer status as a result of the censure. Directors, however, stopped short of removing her from the El Camino Hospital board, which is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the El Camino Health group. Miller, who was curiously allowed to vote on her own censure, was the only “no” vote.
The latest investigation and report to the board points to a pattern of misconduct, with violations also cited in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020. Each time, the board directed Miller to engage in counseling, step down from committees and liaison roles, and change her behavior.
In this latest instance, Miller agreed to write letters of apology, attend an anger management course and give up positions on committees.
Miller remains a polarizing figure. She spent eight years as a Sunnyvale City Council member before being elected to El Camino in 2012. Her supporters include many prominent local leaders, among them former Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein and State Assemblymember Evan Low. Both offered letters of support at last week’s board meeting.
An emotional Miller vigorously argued last week against the censure, pointing to her record of accomplishment in the district.
“Positive actions do not provide carte blanche to abuse power,” director John Zoglin responded.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Miller said, quoting from the Bible. “Leaders are uniters, not dividers. Do you all think of yourselves as leaders or dividers?”
Miller talked of feeling “betrayed” by fellow directors that she had seen as friends and mentees.
“I am so upset with this process,” she said, intimating that she might take legal action.
Dr. Peter Fung, the director leading the meeting, pointed out that the censure was not “a personal attack.”
“You haven’t seemed to have learned from this experience,” he said. “You are fixated on what you have accomplished. Nobody is questioning that.”
Only recently, Miller led an ad hoc committee vote not to renew another four-year term for hospital board member Julie Kliger.
“Community members deserve their representatives to value equality, safe working environments, respect for staff and hospital board members,” Kliger said. “Instead, she has created a hostile work environment, especially towards women in staff positions and all those she views as ‘less powerful.’”
Kliger said it was her understanding that Miller’s committee had already voted not to renew her term before she attended the reappointment interview, an assertion Miller called “outrageously untruthful.”
Miller said she has apologized for times “when I was not at my best,” but was “terribly hurt and disappointed” by the board’s decision.
“I have worked tirelessly over my 11 1/2 years to provide strong governance, raised significant dollars and guided El Camino Health to provide the highest quality of care to our patients,” she said. “I feel my efforts and reputation have been wrongly tarnished by a few unfounded, unsubstantiated complaints.”
In an interview with the Town Crier, Miller acknowledged that her directness is off-putting for some people.
“I don’t beat around the bush,” she said. “There’s no hidden agenda. And how I speak –
some people like that, and some people find it too direct and a little unnerving.”
But former El Camino Health employee Brenda Taussig of Los Altos felt differently.
“She flatters people in high positions and demeans those she thinks are beneath her or can’t do anything for her,” she said. “I’ve never used ‘toxic’ to describe anyone else’s workplace behavior, but it fits. It’s way beyond having a difficult personality.”
Miller’s current term expires in November 2024.
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