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Massage Today
June, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 06

Editorial: 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 could attend a convention, 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 by Massage Today, CAMTC CEO Ahmos Netanel submitted a list of duties board members were 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.

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 six months this board voted to spend money on themselves for a convention.

Besides voting to approve their own expenses, 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 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 were attending in addition to the six staff members already scheduled to go. As a means of comparison, the ABMP, which is the global educational sponsor for the event, only had four staff members there to coordinate seminars and speakers, as well as maintain their exhibit booth. The CAMTC was scheduled to have a total of 14 staff and board members.

In an effort to justify the board's decision, the response from CEO Ahmos Netanel to Massage Today's questions on the matter 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 10th 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. 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 that 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. 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.

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 versus 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. 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."

Opinion: Why so much money?

Putting the CAMTC CEO Compensation into Perspective.

By Donald Petersen, Publisher

Created by legislation introduced in 2007 and signed by the Governor of California in September 2008, the California Massage Therapy Council has 24 staff members including a chief executive officer. Much like a professional licensing board, the CAMTC is responsible for certifying massage therapists to practice in the state. Like any newly formed professional certifying organization, their first few years have included struggles to meet the demand of initial certification.

The Council is overseen by a twenty-member board of trustees. Recently, there have been comments by some board members regarding the salary and benefits received by their chief executive officer, Ahmos Netanal. These comments have suggested that while his initial salary may have been justified, his current annual compensation, $260,000, may be out of line.

The CAMTC board voted to create the CEO position while Netanal was still on the board. He served as the first Chair of this board in 2009 and 2010. He then resigned and applied for the position, along with a number of other applicants, and was hired in March of 2010 by the CAMTC as its first CEO.

Until last year, Netanal earned just under $200,000 per year in salary with another $36,000 "benefits allowance" for a total of $236,000. Last year the CAMTC board decreased his salary to $190,000 per month but expanded his total benefits plan to just short of $70,000 per year resulting in a $260,000 per year total compensation package, a net increase of $24,000 per year.

This is how the current CEO compensation compares to other positions:

  • The Executive Director of the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners' salary is $87,000 per year.
  • The Executive Director of the Medical Board of California's salary is $119,616.
  • A California state legislator salary is $95,291.
  • The Governor of California earns $173,987.

Interestingly, the salary for the California governor was reduced by 18% in 2010, due to the recession. The very next year, the CAMTC board voted to increase the CEO compensation by 10%. Unless there is a premature review, the CAMTC will undergo a scheduled "sunset" review in 2014. At that time the legislature will decide if they should allow the CAMTC to continue. The review process will include a detailed examination of the board's fiscal responsibility. While technically not yet a professional regulatory board, the CAMTC will likely be compared to those of other health care professions.

There is a concern that legislators will see the CEO's compensation package as excessive, particularly as it relates to the executives of other professional credentialing organizations. They may also raise an eyebrow over the fact that he earns twice as much as they do and more than even Governor Brown. The CEO position is not a contracted position and the board can, at any time, adjust the compensation as they deem appropriate. Board members have stated that this issue will be the subject of an upcoming meeting where it will be discussed and debated. This discussion will likely catch the attention of many, including those organizations that have historically been opposed to the CAMTC.

 

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