The Block Island Times

Editorial: Time for leadership

Sep 24, 2012

We can assume that the directors of the Block Island Health Services believed that the action they took in dismissing the director was in the best interests of the health center.

We can wonder at their method or disagree with their decision, but most people would acknowledge that the directors thought that the course they chose would benefit, and certainly not harm, the institution.

So where are we today? Is the center better off than it was two months ago?

We think not.

We hear the board may be willing to amend former administrator Monty Stover’s severance agreement to make it more generous. That’s good. But it’s not just about Stover any more. Staff morale at the health center is in the doldrums. Uncertainty about future management persists. The membership is divided and disenfranchised. Amazingly for a membership organization, there’s been no member meeting since Stover was dismissed and the controversy began — controversy that continues to swirl and spread.

It’s pretty extraordinary that 85 people would show up to a board meeting after learning that Stover had been dismissed. That 50 people are still showing up to Town Council worksessions two months later — that’s remarkable. This issue is not going away.

Yet despite the intense community interest, we have no idea about the current state of finances, either because the board cannot gather the information or chooses not to share it. Has charitable giving suffered? Are reimbursements for care on track? Perhaps we will get answers at the monthly meeting of the board when it finally convenes on Monday after a two-week delay.

And despite the community interest, and the center’s own bylaws, the board is still quibbling about whether BIHS should be subject to open meeting law. It holds unposted meetings, rejects public input, and has failed to produce emails and even some meeting minutes requested by this paper. What could there be to hide?

Whether you frame BIHS as a private non-profit, a membership organization, or a community resource that would not survive without the support it gets from taxpayers, it’s clear that when the bylaws were written, the intent was for complete transparency. We find it hard to understand why all the members of the BIHS board, many of whom have served on other public boards, are going along with the resistance the board’s president is offering on this issue. It may even be illegal — taxpayers forgive rent for the center’s buildings, including two homes, and if that benefit is figured into the center’s finances, it could push BIHS over the 25 percent mark for public contribution, making it subject to state open meeting law.

The much anticipated open meeting between the board and the Town Council that will examine Stover’s departure — and the board’s methodology — is yet to be scheduled. Stover has agreed to sign a waiver indemnifying the board, removing a huge potential stumbling block. The board has said repeatedly it wants to meet and appears to have passed on the idea of seeking mediation first — and yet no date has been set.

This maneuvering is unbecoming and generates public cynicism. The board needs to step up to the plate, and the Town Council needs to develop the backbone to take charge.

If indeed all parties want what is best for the medical center — and we believe that is the case — let’s get on with it. The issue has hijacked resources and emotions for long enough. Indecision and drift benefit no one. Let’s see some leadership.


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