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Massage Today
April 17, 2012

The CAMTC Money Grab

By Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h)

It is a sad time for the massage therapy profession. A disturbing trend has continued, despite my hopes that the people involved would recognize how unhealthy it is for massage. I'm referring to the decision by the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC) board to vote themselves unnecessary travel money so they can attend a convention later this week, all expenses paid.

This money was originally approved for attending a convention as "roving ambassadors" with no real duties or responsibilities. After news of this decision was publicized last week by Massage Today, CAMTC CEO Ahmos Netanel submitted a list of duties board members will now be expected to perform.1

The decision was made on a board conference call on Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Kathryn Feather, Massage Today's Senior Associate Editor, was on the call. While it was not unanimous, the majority of those voting in favor of the measure were the ones who would receive the money.

For the record, this is who voted for and against a motion to take money for unnecessary travel:

Board Member Vote on Expenses Submitted Estimated Expenses?
William Armour Not Present No
Bob Benson No No
Mike Callagy Yes No
Judi Calvert Not Present Submitted
Nayada Dhanaphatana Yes No
Mark Dixon Yes Submitted
Ben Drillings Abstain No
Guy Fuson Yes No
Keith Grant Yes Submitted
Elna Leonardo Yes Submitted
Mike Marylander Yes No
Christian Pezza Yes Submitted
Jean Robinson No No
Roberta Rolnick Yes Submitted
Mike Schroeder No  No
Paul Schwinghammer Not Present No
Michael Sheps Not Present No
Joe Bob Smith Yes No
Deborah Tuck Yes Submitted
Dixie Wall Abstain No

Actions Reveal Intent

The vote was to reimburse board members to attend the American Massage Conference (AMC) in San Diego. This was in addition to already receiving free registration and free Gala tickets ($115 total value). This was the second time in the last 6 months that this board has voted to spend money on themselves for a convention.

What was strange is that attached to the board's meeting agenda was a worksheet listing those board members who had already decided to attend the AMC and how much they had already spent for their airfare and hotel registration.

A per diem allowance of $213 ($71 per day) was also included in the worksheet along with mileage reimbursement for those who would be traveling by car. In short, these board members had already decided to go and were making an effort to see if they could get free money from the CAMTC.

Note that these board members are attending in addition to the 6 staff members who will already be present. As a means of comparison, the ABMP, which is the global educational sponsor for the event, will only have four staff members there. And they have to coordinate seminars and speakers, as well as maintain their exhibit booth. The CAMTC will have a total of 14 staff and board members.

Efforts were made to contact these board members, but only four of those who voted for the motion responded; one through the CEO, two via e-mail and another declined to comment as he is not attending the convention. They appeared to be in hiding over their decision.

When Ahmos Netanal, the CAMTC CEO was contacted, he waited to respond until after the first article deadline. His ultimate response can only be described as one of panic. In fact, this is the most confused, poorly rationalized response I have seen in 30 years of journalism. When he finally responded to direct questions regarding the board's actions a few days later, his initial response had to be rescinded as his answers did not have the board's approval.

In an effort to justify the board's decision, the response included statements which were obviously untrue. Here are just a few examples:2,3

  • "Our ceiling for conference reimbursement, at most, would be in the $600 range if the Board member were participating in the full three day conference." - This is untrue as the worksheet attached to the board agenda showed reimbursements for some board members in excess of $1,000.
  • "Per Diem includes hotel" – Again, the same worksheet shows not only the amount of per diem to be reimbursed, but also the amount on hotel expense to be reimbursed.

In September 2010, the board adopted an expense reimbursement policy that allows for reimbursement for costs related to "Council service" and "Council business." There was specific conversation during the April 10 board meeting that made it clear that the attending board members did not have any particular duties.

Neither the 2010 nor an earlier 2009 policy mentions a cap on how many board members can go or even when they arrive and depart.

Some of the board members are arriving on Thursday, April 19th, when the only event is the golf tournament. The exhibit hall, where the CAMTC has a booth, does not open until 1 p.m. Friday. Had all 20 board members decided to participate in the money grab, the total cost to the CAMTC could have been more than $20,000 for this single event.

Keep in mind that this is the second event where the board has decided to pay themselves. The first was in October 2011, the board okayed reimbursements for travel to the FSMTB convention in Southern California. With several massage events in California every year, it's not a stretch to imagine tens of thousands of dollars going to such expenses, the equivalent of hundreds of certificate fees per year.

Following the Money

The question that quickly comes to mind is: Why approve so many people for travel to an event already being covered by six staffers?

Ahmos Netanal introduced the resolution for reimbursement. As CEO, he currently earns more than $259,000 under a very lucrative contract that we understand is up for review later this year. While I have a hard time justifying over a quarter of a million dollars a year for this position, I have to assume it had something to do with the need to build the CAMTC from the ground up.

But now that they have been up and running since August 2009, the CEO compensation package should be reduced to the $85,000 per year that the chiropractic Board and other similar professional boards pay their executives.

For example, the same position with the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners pays $6,694 to $7,239 per month. The annual difference between these two positions is $173,112, equal to approximately 1,100 more certificate fees per year.

According to Board records (April 2011), "Mr. Netanel's base salary (was decreased) from $16,666.66 per month to $15,833 per month and add an additional $330 per month to his existing benefits allowance (from $3,000 per month to $3,333 per month). In addition, provide Mr. Netanel with $1,666 per month toward dependent benefits, and $833 per month (for 12 months only) toward his home office expenses. Total annual compensation package would increase from $236,000 to $259,980."

One would think that if the CAMTC is so drunk with money that, at the very least, they would reduce the amount they charge therapists for registration. I would actually prefer to see them just make better use of the money.

With three years under their belt, one would think that the board would decrease Netanal's compensation instead of increasing it by $2,000 per month. Given the recent reimbursement decision one has to wonder what their motive is. Is the liberal travel reimbursement for unnecessary travel part of a quid pro quo? It is not hard to see that if each of them collects a few thousand dollars a year, that they would be more than willing to let him have his quarter million. It will be easy to see if this is correct, just watch and see what the board does when the contract renewal comes up. If they don't severely reduce the compensation package, then their votes were bought and paid for.

The End of the CAMTC

The CAMTC is a nonprofit corporation operating under strict laws. It is also unique in that it is not directly under the state of California like most professional boards, at least not right now. The CAMTC is an experiment to see if the profession can manage itself without heavy-handed oversight by the state. The experiment may come to a close at the end of 2014 when the CAMTC is set to sunset unless it is renewed.

The current self dealing by the board and overpayment of Netanal puts the future of the CAMTC in jeopardy. With their current actions now public, it is not unreasonable to think that enemies of the massage therapy profession will be contacting their state legislators asking them to take action against the board. And our legislative friends may be embarrassed and hard-pressed to defend us particularly when the board comes up for renewal.

So why risk the future of the CAMTC by overpaying Netanal and allowing the board to take money to go places they were scheduled to go anyway?

What You Can Do

This issue is not something I ever expected to see in massage therapy. It seems counter to our culture. Having exposed this type of behavior in the chiropractic profession,4 I can tell you it is incredibly embarrassing for the profession and damaging to its reputation. It has a lasting impact that is not easily forgotten.

While you can't vote to elect or replace the board members, you do have a voice. You can encourage the board members to stop lining their pockets with travel money and reduce the CEO compensation to a level that will not anger the California legislature when it votes on the fate of the CAMTC in the next two years.

We have established a web page (www.massagetoday.com/moneygrab) where you can write an e-mail and, with one click, send it to the board members and Mr. Netanal. The hope is that they will see the importance of doing the right thing and make the necessary changes.

Please understand that I still have faith in this board. I know some of the people on it and believe that those who voted for the motion have been mislead in their decision to take money from the certificate holders. And while it may appear that we are "attacking" the CAMTC board or have some sort of axe to grind, the truth is that Massage Today has strongly supported the organization since its inception, most notably in the bruising fight over AB1822.

If they will make the changes necessary, the CAMTC can live on to do great things for our profession. If not, they will sunset in two years, ending the money grab. Rest assured that the legislature will receive an analysis from our enemies that will compare how this Board operates verses how they would be required to operate under State oversight. It is easy to see the legislators alienated by self dealing and by a CEO compensation package that is more than two and half times their pay.

Less than six months ago, Massage Today recognized the CAMTC for their investigation into human trafficking.5 How sad that this same board could themselves come under investigation for self dealing. Last year MT named the CAMTC Board the "2011 Heroes of the Profession." How heroic will they be if their desire for a few thousand dollars a year is one of the reasons the California legislature decides that we can no longer oversee our own certification. With millions of dollar at stake, the future of the CAMTC will get plenty of attention.

Please, take a few moments and make your voice heard. This is not just a California issue. This will impact the entire profession nationally: www.massagetoday.com/moneygrab.

References:

  1. "CA Massage Board Votes to Send 'Roving Ambassadors' to San Diego Convention" published at www.massagetoday.com on April 12, 2012.
  2. E-mail response sent to Massage Today Publisher Don Petersen from CAMTC CEO Ahmos Netanel on Friday April 13, 2012.
  3. CAMTC Board Agenda Packet
  4. NBCE: Violating a Professional Trust or Doing Business as Usual? Dynamic Chiropractic – January 25, 2000, Vol. 18, Issue 03, www.dynamicchiropractic.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=31527 and www.dynamicchiropractic.com/graphs/pdf_files/1_25_00graph.pdf.
  5. "2011 Heroes of the Profession," www. massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=14499.

 

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