Hermosa Drops Child-Abuse Service Contract : Anonymous Caller Tells of Program Director's Past Sexual Indiscretions

Times Staff Writer

The city last week backed out of a contract with a private agency chosen to run the city's long-awaited child-abuse prevention program because it found out that the agency's program director lost his license as a clinical psychologist because he had sexual relations with two of his adult female patients.

Henry Mejia, executive director of Open Door Clinics, said the agency received a telegram Thursday from the city stating that Hermosa Beach was no longer interested in hiring the Alhambra-based agency to set up and run the program that the city has been trying to get off the ground for more than a year and a half.

The contract would have required Open Door Clinics to organize citywide public forums on child-abuse education, provide special training in child-abuse detection for police officers, write and distribute a quarterly newsletter, develop a child-abuse resource library and perform other services.

The City Council had approved a one-year contract with Open Door Clinics three weeks ago, but City Manager Gregory Meyer said last week that the contract had not been signed by city officials and that the city has no legal obligation to honor it.

License Revoked in 1979

The council met in closed session Tuesday to discuss disclosures about Jack W. Dresser, 49, program director at Open Door Clinics for the past three years. Although no announcement was made at the meeting, sources at City Hall said the council decided at that time to terminate the city's dealings with the agency because of Dresser. Meyer would say only that the program was "on hold."

Howard Levy, executive officer of the state Psychology Examining Committee, said the state revoked Dresser's license in 1979 after the panel found him guilty of "gross negligence" in the practice of psychology.

Records kept by the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance, which oversees the examining panel, show that Dresser lost his license because he engaged in sexual activities with two female patients--one 28 years old and the other 29--in the early 1970s, a spokeswoman for the board's enforcement bureau said.

She said Dresser petitioned the committee in 1982 to get his license back, but the request was denied because an evaluation that same year by a clinical psychologist concluded that Dresser's "rehabilitation was in serious doubt."

Dresser said in a telephone interview last week that he has gone through intensive therapy and that he has been working to rebuild his life, career and reputation for the past several years. While acknowledging that what he did was wrong, Dresser said he does not think it is relevant to the Hermosa Beach program.

"I think it is really a shame that they want to throw it away because of a mistake I made 10 years ago," he said. "I feel proud of what I have done in the past few years, and I think I should have the right to be left alone and rebuild my career."

'Long Time Ago'

Dresser said he has worked to distinguish himself in new areas, particularly in drug and alcohol abuse prevention, and said publicity about the revocation of his license to practice psychology unfairly casts a shadow on those accomplishments.

"I want the the opportunity to rebuild my life," he said. "The mistake that I made, which was egregious and indefensible, was a long time ago."

Dresser's recent accomplishments impressed officials in Hermosa Beach, and apparently played an important role in the selection process. The city's contract with Open Door Clinics specifically names Dresser as "an active provider of services" and called for its termination if Dresser were removed as program director.

City Councilman John Cioffi, who served as chairman of a committee that screened applicants for the child-abuse program, said the committee was much impressed with Dresser and said his presentation to the committee was in large part responsible for his recommendation to hire Open Door Clinics.

"His performance for the agency has been exemplary," Mejia said. "He doesn't provide any direct services here or in the program in Hermosa Beach."

Levy, of the state committee, said revocation of Dresser's license prohibits him from practicing clinical psychology, but does not prevent him from providing administrative services related to psychology.

"You don't need a license to do administration," Levy said. "So long as you are not delivering psychological services, you can do a variety things, including being the boss of a clinic."

Anonymous Phone Call

Sources at City Hall said Dresser's past came to the attention of city officials after the council had approved the contract. The sources said an anonymous person telephoned the city with the information after reading news accounts about approval of the contract.

Mejia said that the nonprofit corporation, which runs seven clinics in the county, will attempt to persuade Hermosa Beach officials to change their mind, but acknowledged his efforts may be fruitless.

"I can understand they're being shy at this point," said Mejia, who did not know about Dresser's past until a year after he hired him. Mejia, too, first learned of the license revocation from a phone call, he said.

"I had to evaluate the situation on the basis of my own experience with him, and I decided to keep him on board," he said. "His work here really doesn't involve a conflict."

'Not Relevant'

Mejia defended his agency's decision not to disclose Dresser's past to Hermosa Beach officials, saying it is "not at all relevant" to the contract.

"All the information that was relevant to the proposed program was given to the city," he said. "They were very excited about him. He is the same person. He didn't become somebody else since the disclosure of his past. He is as capable as he was then."

Cioffi, however, said that he would not have recommended Open Door Clinics to the city if he had known about Dresser's background.

"The issue is just too sensitive to our community to have someone with a sexual offense in his background participating in the program," he said. "The fact that he has had his license revoked for sexual misconduct would put a cloud over the entire program."

The $22,000 contract with Open Door would have ended an 18-month search for child-abuse prevention coordinator for the city, a search that began shortly after several preschools in the beach cities were investigated for allegations of child sexual abuse in 1984. The city's first choice to head the program turned down the job in the summer of 1985. Recruitment began again last summer, and the city began negotiating with Open Door Clinics in November.

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