BIHS membership list debate
During a tense discussion that re-opened wounds about issues unresolved from last year, Block Island Health Services (BIHS) board members debated whether its membership list should be made available to members themselves and to candidates running for the board.
Currently, the BIHS board of directors cannot access its own dues-paying membership list, and neither can candidates running for the board. The list was compiled by BIHS Secretary Kay Lewis in 2012. Executive Director Barbara Baldwin now manages the list and is the only person to have access. It is not Baldwin’s decision as to who can and cannot have access to the list.
It was BIHS Board member Bill McCombe who motioned that board members be granted access to the membership list.
“I don’t understand why would you still feel we shouldn’t know who our members are,” said McCombe at the April 22 meeting. “This cloak of secrecy is beyond me.”
At first, there was silence among the BIHS board, and none seemed willing to second the motion.
Eventually, Sue Hagedorn seconded it, saying, “I really appreciate that finally the elephant that’s in the room, we’re kind of dealing with it now.”
Other members expressed their reason for hesitating on McCombe’s motion.
“There are at least two members of the board who are on a seat to be re-elected,” said BIHS board member Bob Fallon. “To give them access to that list, and not to give access to the four other individuals who are not [current board] members and are running, I don’t think is correct.”
McCombe said his request to see the board members was not tied to the election — he wanted to know the demographics of BIHS members in order to find out how to better recruit new members.
“It’s a pay-to-vote system right now, and you don’t know who is a member and who isn’t,” said Bill McCombe. “When the people who are elected to represent them don’t know, there’s something wrong.”
McCombe’s motion failed by a 3-6 vote. The ayes were: Hagedorn, Fallon and McCombe. The nayes were: Lewis, President Pam Hinthorn, Judith Cyronak, Cindy Baute and Cookie Lenoci.
“My resistance to all of this is how political it’s become, that we’re talking about a bigger agenda,” said Hagedorn. “A membership list — I agree that it should be public. But right now, it sounds like it’s going to be used in a political campaign.”
The issue will be brought up at a future subcommittee meeting.
Who is a BIHS member
The issue of who is a member has also become part of this year’s board elections.
BIHS members are those who have paid dues to the Medical Center, and they are allowed to vote for board members in elections. BIHS bylaws do not specify if the board or the public is allowed to see the membership list.
BIHS is preparing for its annual membership election — there are six candidates running for three seats, and results will be announced on June 9. Several candidates, including Peter Saxon and Bruce Montgomery, have expressed interest in obtaining the membership list so they could campaign and send targeted mailings.
“I’m running for election trying to woo a very specific number of people,” said Bruce Montgomery, a candidate running for the BIHS election. “What can I do to reach the people who may vote for me to become a member of this board?”
Board member Bob Fallon, who joined the meeting by phone, made a motion that would allow BIHS members access to the membership list. The list would not include the amount given by any person or the name of any person who had requested their name not be disclosed.
The board approved Fallon’s motion and voted to send it to the board’s Membership Committee for discussion.
“I would be very happy to bring this to the membership committee when we’re about to have a meeting,” said Secretary Kay Lewis, also the membership committee chair. She did not give any indication about when the next meeting would be — or if it would be before the June 9 meeting.
Later on, Lewis read a statement from a person who asked that their name not be shared. “Do not give, sell or anyway transmit or reveal my name,” Lewis read from the person’s request.
“I think there is another element in the room in addition to the elections,” said Board Member Judith Cyronak. “In the past, membership in BIHS was not controversial at all. In the past year, there has been controversy. There may be people who joined who actually don’t want their neighbors to know. It is a controversial issue.”
The controversy stems from multiple events that happened last year. One of these events occurred last July when the BIHS board announced that Executive Director Monty Stover had resigned from that position. Stover later wrote a letter to the B.I. Times claiming his resignation was not voluntary. Also within the past year, the Medical Center had a budget shortfall that required the board to dip significantly into its endowment.
Stover said that, when he was director, he had been requested to provide a membership list to the board members. “I think it’s false to say that the list was never provided. I think it was,” he said. Lewis disagreed with him. “This is ancient history. I didn’t ever have a list,” she said.
“It seems to me like it’s getting to be clandestine,” said island resident Mary Donnelly, R.N., who has recently retired as the island’s state nurse. “If [someone] doesn’t agree with me that doesn’t mean we’re not friends. We still have our opinions and I think that’s what makes a good strong organization.”
Board members Ken Lacoste and Shannon Morgan were absent. Pete Tweedy left the meeting early.