Letters to the Editor, Sept. 29, 2012
To: the Editor-
In response to your editorial on the 22nd of September, “Time for Leadership,” I would say that it is a time for editorial responsibility instead of inaccuracy and bias.
Actually, the Medical Center is better off than it was two months ago. Decisions are being made, and improvements are taking place. You comment negatively about staff morale, but I know of no staff employee whom you have contacted to determine this. On the contrary, I am seeing definitely positive attitudes on the part of our staff in their own interactions and the interactions they have with patients. The survey forms I see from our patients are uniformly satisfactory, and there are often extra laudatory written comments. We are now having regular staff meetings with agendas, in which our staff is sharing its concerns and suggestions. We are including board representatives in some of these to improve communications and rapport.
About the membership: Well over 300 people and families have renewed membership in BIHS, which is probably on a par with past years. This is because of an enormous effort by our Membership Committee, since there was no membership list that could be found here in the office. The Membership meeting is held on a yearly basis, in the spring. And donations are coming in, a number of them in the $500-$1,000 range. Last week a grateful patient, brought back from the edge by his caregivers here, came back to BIHS to deliver a personal thank you and a check for $2,500. So charitable giving is going well, in spite of all the negative publicity.
About reimbursements: Yes they are on track. But that track has not been a good one because of inadequate effort and procedures in the past. As an example, in spite of $77,000 in accounts at least 120 days in arrears, no accounts have been sent to collections since February 2012. We are working hard with our billing company to better understand and correct this issue. Finances are reported regularly at monthly meetings, as they were last night. As soon as the fiscal 2012 audit is complete, it will become public. The board does not reject public input - there sure has been plenty of that since July 16. Interestingly, there is no file of board meeting minutes that I can find in this office. That will change. And observation of the Open Meeting bylaw can and will improve.
As for the open meeting you cite to examine the circumstances of Monty’s departure, Mr. Saxon has informed the board that there will be no waiver signed. That means no such meeting can be held. It can be said that the board and Monty went through a nearly two year long process leading up to his departure. It is surprising that the editor has no awareness of this, since a publisher of the paper served on the board up until May, 2012.
I have been sitting uncomfortably “close to the plate” now for almost 12 weeks, watching the BIHS board as it has tried to negotiate this terribly hostile environment. Individually, and as a group, they have worked very hard and responsibly and with courage to protect and improve the Medical Center. It is so easy to be a Friday morning quarterback, so easy to destroy spirit and reputation. Is responsible journalism so far out of reach?
Peter B. Baute, MD
BIHS Interim Administrator
To: the Editor-
I moved to Block Island 29 years ago this month. I have lived every day here on this island for more time than I have been anywhere else. I have been enculturated. I went to college in New York City and worked there after I graduated. For several years after I moved here I felt like an alien, a foreigner because I did not “speak the language.” I did not understand the “culture” that had attracted me after vacationing here every summer since the age of 5.
Regardless of the issues surrounding the termination of Monty Stover, what has become crystal clear is that we have reached a point of optimal conflict. Persistent frustration has created a situation whereby we are unable to diffuse a dilemma and therefore we must deal with it.
Our island has its own culture, its own set of unspoken rules, rules that one internalizes by living here. They are not written down anywhere but they are very specific. Our island culture is what those who visit us appreciate — a neighborliness, an old fashioned feeling of accountability to one another that has all but vanished in the larger world.
Occurrences this summer put the spotlight not just on the lack of fluency of some of the BIHS board members, but to our cultural inability to tolerate a board that has spun off in a direction that does not allow it to be accountable to the community at large. The posture that no one ever came to board meetings every third Monday at 3 p.m. rings with a defensiveness that is hollow. The voters do elect and subsequently depend on the integrity and fluency of each board to perform its duties in a respectful, competent manner. We do not feel that scrutinizing our boards and committees is necessary, but that their autonomy should be respected.
At least, until a board does something that is culturally questionable. That story we all well know. The board, despite last night’s willingness to allow transparency, still speaks a broken Island-ese. And it may be the nature of their bylaws that allows them to continue to do so.
So, to the point, what I now ponder is
• Whether our community can or will tolerate a board such as this one — not the members of the board, but the framework?
•The experimental membership model needs to be addressed and its governing capacity needs to be reviewed. Was it formed primarily to fundraise, as is the commonly held belief?
•Does the board have the authority to hire or partner with a larger management organization? It was clear last night that they do not have that authority.
•Is the current board defining its role as it finds necessary or are its duties clear? Are the boundaries blurred? Should this 11-member board even exist?
•If membership elections and attendant paperwork are so expensive and time consuming, should the membership model be abandoned? Does the membership income balance out the effort and expense? Should the taxpayers be shouldering more of the financial burden?
The now unseated director has said that there are advantages to having a mainland partner or partners without necessarily being owned by any one partner. My observation during this time of optimal conflict is that our culture and community cannot tolerate the structure of this board, regardless of who are its members, and we have the opportunity here to restructure. If a lease agreement with the town of New Shoreham, meaning the voters and taxpayers, for a dollar a year, does not meet our criteria of transparency and cannot be agreed upon, then the lease should not be signed and the contract abandoned. If our goal is to partner with an entity such as South County Hospital, then the role of board as it is becomes obsolete.
A director, a five-member fundraising and grant-writing board to work with the director, a bookkeeper and a plant manager along with an administrative assistant might be a good place to start.
An open letter to the members of the Block Island Medical Center—
As family members of our Medical Center, we want to express our support for our board’s recent personnel decision. We base our support on the fact that they, as members of our community, have been democratically elected to their positions. As voters, we have entrusted them with the fiduciary responsibilities of managing the affairs of the Medical Center for the benefit of the community and, especially, for the patients served. If there is a membership desire for a change in our elected board, let’s use the vote, not rhetoric.
Bill Penn and Sally Stephens
Beacon Hill Road
To: the Editor-
I am sorry it has taken me so long, but I am finally writing this note. I have chosen to send this to the paper rather than to the board of Block Island Health Services because I strongly feel by doing so it will, for one thing, not fall on deaf ears. In what I feel to be a deliberately deceitful act, the board blantantly lied in its campaign fundraising letter to members and friends.
I recieved last July the 2012-2013 membership campaign mailing, a five paragraph letter of information ending with a request for a monetary contribution of at least $25. That’s fine and dandy! But I have a real problem with those whose names are on that document as board members asking for monetary donations while deliberating misleading and misinforming us about the real truth about Monty Stover. I refer you to paragraph 4, line 1, “Monty Stover stepped down as the BIHS executive director.” That is a deliberate lie. Sorry, he did not step down, nor did he resign — that is the truth. To try to procure monies for support while purposely misinforming people is an absolutely disgraceful and despicable act — not tolerable, not acceptable.
Who can trust them now? Their credibility is gone. They have brought this cloud upon themselves. I, for one, want and deserve to know why they did this to Monty, and to hear an apology to the friends and members of BIHS. The freedom of information act is designed for all citizens and there are no exceptions, especially when public funds are being requested and used.
West Haven, Conn.
This letter was sent to BIHS board members and copied to the Times-—
You are all uncompensated volunteers and well-intentioned. However, good intentions, if not implemented, are of little value and it appears from what follows that such implementation is presently necessary and desirable.
The number of closed meetings that you have held during your tenure may have equaled the total of all closed meetings held since the birth of the health center in 1984. By such closure, it appears that you are shutting out the community from knowing what’s going on and, in turn, have insulated yourselves from community input, thereby remaining uninformed about community concerns. Thus you give the impression that you know best what is good for the community and do not need any feedback from them on important issues and policies.
Furthermore, it appears that contrary to the open meetings law, you have dealt with issues that should have been open but that you nevertheless closed so as to go your own way, without transparency.
For example, the failure of the board to address the council’s recommendation to mediate the dispute with Monty as to which the First Warden (as set forth in her letter to you of September 4), understood that you would meet by “at least September 10 to consider the potentiality of mediation.”
When you went into closed session on September 10, you did not follow through on that understanding and failed to consider mediation. Instead, according to your press release, you, pursuant to the decision you reached in the closed session, agreed to meet with the council “in response to the council’s request to understand the background, procedures and reasons for your personnel decision.” However, that was only one of the two issues (the other being “mediation”) that you were asked by Kim to address at your September 10 meeting.
To then go into closed session claiming that it involved a sensitive personnel matter and thereby cloaking your unwillingness to address the “mediation” as understood you would, was disingenuous: All sensitive personnel issues, such as performance, evaluation and information leading to the reasons for termination were dealt with and disposed of up to the point of termination. No further consideration or disclosure of any confidential personnel information was necessary in order to merely schedule a meeting with the council to explain why Monty was terminated. Hence, the scheduling and the mediation should have been addressed in the same open meeting instead of apparently ducking the mediation altogether during an apparently contrived closed session.
Your ongoing practice of declaring closed sessions that should have been transparently open ones has unfortunately resulted in mistrust and disappointment by the community.
In my original statement to the board that preceded this revised one, I stated that there was reason to believe that staff morale had been lowered because of certain board practices (which I mentioned).
Based on further inquiry, I now find that there seems to be no basis for that belief and, with apology, I retract what I originally stated; except for the effect, if any, stemming from the president’s confidentially intended but publicly disclosed email of her intention to get rid of Dr. Miller.
It appears that the medical center has come to such a state of affairs because some of you, in particular the leadership, appear to have a corporate mentality and attitude whereby the board’s governance is from the top down without heeding feedback from the bottom up, and its authority is not to be questioned. Those who may have that attitude do not belong on a board in a community such as ours which, thankfully, is the antithesis of that mentality and attitude.
Where do we go from here?
Five of us – Chick Marcoux, Dr. Wade Ortel, Bruce Johnson, Cynthia Galla and myself – with the cooperation of board members Verna Littlefield and Monica Hull Shea, whose baby BIHS was – worked hard to make BIHS a genuine membership corporation by giving ultimate governance to the community through its right to elect nine of the 11 members of the board, thus making it accountable to the community by more than mere lip service.
That work and those achievable goals that we thought we put in place are at odds with your policies and practices for the foregoing reasons.
There is still time to come about and correct course either by (i) a fundamental change of attitude and policy, or (ii) a change in the makeup of the board by election or otherwise.
Hopefully, the former will be the case and the board will, by self-correction, take account of the community’s concerns so that the pool of your valuable experience, know-how, otherwise good intentions and conscientious work, can then be better brought to bear for the benefit of the community.
West Side Road
To: the Editor—
A similar letter was recently delivered to various members of the local government and boards. I hope the thoughts can gain some traction.
Block Island is indeed a beautiful and special place. We must not lose sight of the fact that it is the beauty of the island that draws many of our visitors and drives the economic value of the community. I suggest that we need to raise our consciousness that it is our responsibility as residents (part and full time) to do our part to maintain that beauty. That responsibility should include maintaining a tidy public and private landscape that allows the beauty of the island to be appreciated by you as well as others. I’d like to see an elevation of attention made by all residents toward sharing and improving the view.
First and as you know, there is neglected growth and selfish planting of trees by some that are blocking views of the past. We’ll never return to the landscape of the early 1900s but the open land and seascapes are a primary reason that people visit and buy property here. Some of my water views, for example, are now being blocked by trees that neighbors have allowed to grow without regard to my view. BIPCo has been remiss in not removing a nearby and now stately tree that has power lines running right through its center – a power outage just waiting to happen. A neighbor has recently constructed a very unsightly ‘viewing tower’ to look over a purposely neglected forest owned by his neighbor. Drive around the island and witness the views lost and the aggressive construction to gain sight lines.
Now I see that the Town Council is in preliminary discussion on a new tree ordinance and establishment of a “Tree Preservation and Protection Commission” to protect the town’s trees. Give me a break! We have too many trees, certainly too many tall ones that block views. Let’s not give further emphasis to growing more trees. Forty-four percent of the island is conserved and I am thankful for that, but efforts and attitudes must be shaped to help protect our scenic views on conserved, public and private lands. The council should encourage BIPCo to be aggressive in trimming and removing trees to assure a more reliable power service. Additionally, the council could issue guidelines on controlling tree growth and new plantings to help protect views of neighbors and to encourage some removal. We’re a pretty ‘green’ island without additional large tree growth. Consider establishing a “Tree Preservation and Scenic View Protection Commission” if you must add another commission.
Secondly, I see that the Planning Commission has agreed to allow sheds to be placed on small lots. The intent may be noble and justified because organized and protected storage of outdoor items is certainly worthwhile. However, I am witness to a new shed on a small property that simply adds to the clutter already there. This property in addition to the new shed contains lobster traps, bait barrels, old equipment, trailers, garden supplies, patio furniture, and generally a mishmash of items scattered throughout the yard. If a shed ordinance must be approved, it should include a clause to provide that items previously stored in the yard should be stored in the shed or removed from street sight. The shed should not add to the clutter. Remember, improve the view. There should also be an architectural standard for the sheds and ‘container like’ sheds should not be permitted. Recognizing that disposing of unwanted items at the transfer station is expensive, I suggest scheduling a town sponsored off-season ‘yard cleanup day’ similar to the ‘beach cleanup day’ where items may be dumped for free or at a special rate. Yeah I know; how do you control this and where is the budget?
Thirdly, I’d like to comment on street parking. The council discussed the issue as it pertains to West Side 20 recently and it seems to suggest that two vehicles per home will be allowed. There should be NO overnight parking allowed on any road except in special places marked as permitted. There may be some hardships where a special permit should be allowed but in general and for safety, emergency and scenic beauty reasons, on-street parking should be restricted unless specifically posted (as in town). Again nearby, two trailers are permanently parked on the street along with at least one overnight vehicle. Others on the street frequently park on the street. This parking adds to the danger when pulling out of my driveway or when walkers, bikers and vehicles are traveling on our well utilized road. West Side Road is even more traveled. Don’t add to the unsightliness and hazardousness of our roads by allowing street parking for up to two vehicles per home at West Side 20 or any other place on the island. Improve the view for others and feel good about your thoughtfulness.
I believe that the council and various boards need to develop a better plan, execution and enforcement for maintaining a beautiful island. The council and Planning Board can easily lose sight of why so many of us non-residents own property here. We want good schools, medical care and housing for the residents too, and recognize that our vacation and rental property enjoyment and viability depends upon the health, happiness and services of the residents. We support the island through taxes, contributions and spending. But please, consider devoting more attention and thoughtfulness to the number one concern for me and I think many cottagers: maintaining a safe and beautiful island.
David T. Olson
Center Road and Williamsburg, Va.
To: the Editor-
Block Island now shines in the eyes and hearts of our recent visitors from Denmark. Five of them spent four days admiring the natural beauty, our historic properties, the friendliness of everyone they met and the bounty from the sea. On their very first morning, Pam Gasner gave them a tour and talk at the Historical Society. What a great way to lay a foundation for everything else they saw and experienced! Their enthusiasm reinforces how proud we must be of our Historical Society and the expertise and passion of its leader, Pam Gasner, the board and all its supporters.
Jane and Jon Emsbo
Corn Neck Road