We're trying to figure out why a public official with compensation exceeding $1 million receives reimbursement for charitable contributions.

It turns out that Nancy Farber, CEO of Fremont-based Washington Hospital, has for years been making thousands of dollars of donations and then submitting the expenditures to the public hospital district for reimbursement.

This sort of revolting behavior, which is not only permitted but encouraged in her contract, must end. If Farber, one of the highest-paid public officials in the state, wants to do her part and make personal contributions to needy causes, all the power to her. Indeed, given the size of her salary and benefits, it would seem the right thing to do.

Washington Hospital Chief Executive Officer Nancy Farber is photographed during a meeting of the board of directors for the Washington Township Health Care
Washington Hospital Chief Executive Officer Nancy Farber is photographed during a meeting of the board of directors for the Washington Township Health Care District on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in Fremont, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

If the hospital board determines that it wants to make donations of district funds, those decisions should be made publicly and transparently. And, if the contributions are proper, the funds should be sent directly from the district to the charitable organization.

Instead, as reporter Ashly McGlone documented, Farber has been listed as a sponsor of fundraisers and galas, but the district is actually paying the bill.

This unrestricted funneling of funds -- more than $20,000 over just the past three years -- through Farber's personal checking account is unacceptable, especially when the process is riddled with conflict.


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The biggest beneficiary has been the Washington Hospital Foundation. Dr. William Nicholson, a hospital district director who should be overseeing Farber's contract and expenses, also serves as an executive officer for the foundation.

That might help explain why he conveniently sees nothing wrong with the money-funneling arrangement, and no reason for the district board to review such expenses.

One of the foundation campaigns, "Fund a Need," raises money annually for a specific hospital project, such as, in recent years, construction of a lab, a chemotherapy infusion center, and a new brain and spine imaging system.

When Farber contributed and received reimbursement, the hospital was effectively funneling money back to itself. Nicholson seems to think this is alright because the money spurs more contributions.

Actually, it simply misleads other donors to think that Farber is a personal donor when she's not. This sort of deceptive fund-raising/arm-twisting is inappropriate and ethically questionable.

And then there are Farber's contributions to the Ohlone College Foundation and the Niles Rotary Club. These are worthwhile charities, but the hospital district should be spending its money on health-related efforts.

The district spokesman first dismissed McGlone's questions about Farber's expenditures as "trite." Quite the contrary, this was an entirely appropriate examination of a public hospital's inappropriate expenditures. If the hospital's officials are so ethically challenged that they can't see the obvious conflicts, perhaps it is time for some better oversight of the public's money.