Tension at the BIHS Board
Discontent between Town Councilor Chris Warfel and the owners of the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) spilled over into a meeting of the Block Island Health Services board meeting on June 30.
There was also marked tension between members of the board at the same meeting.
During a Town Council meeting on June 25, Warfel and BIPCo Chief Operating Officer Cliff McGinnes Sr. got into a shouting match that was seemingly headed toward a more physical altercation before another councilor stepped in.
At the BIHS meeting, it was a letter written by Warfel about another BIPCo owner, Dr. Al Casazza, that caused another eruption, although not physical in nature. Casazza is BIPCo’s president.
Board President Bob Fallon announced that the board had received a letter from Warfel, but also announced that the board had unanimously agreed not to make the letter public, despite the fact that Warfel had asked it to be read into the minutes. However, attempting to speak from the audience, McGinnes sought to have it read into the record. Fallon said that McGinnes could speak in the public comment segment of the meeting.
McGinnes, when he had the chance to speak, advocated that the letter be read out loud. Fallon said, in lieu of that, the board would make if available to members of the public who wished to see it. In the letter, Warfel accuses Casazza and McGinnes of having threatened him at the June 25 meeting of the Town Council.
He further charged Casazza with “impeding at least one avenue by which the medical center could return to financial health… with respect to energy utilization and its costs.” He objected to what he called Casazza’s “anti-renewable energy position,” suggesting it was connected to his “financial interest on energy.”
Characterizing Casazza as “ethically challenged,” Warfel strongly suggested a conflict of interest for Casazza in serving on the medical board since he was the President of BIPCo. Qualifying his own position in withdrawing support for BIHS fundraisers as not intended ‘to cause any harm to the Medical Center,” he clarified his intent was “to distance myself from unsavory and thuggish characters as best I can.”
A number of earlier proceedings were marked by contention at the meeting, as well.
When Secretary Sue Hagedorn moved to have the minutes of several meetings approved, Fallon objected to the use of the word “heated discussion” by Hagedorn in depicting the June 2 meeting.
Hagedorn responded that she thought her choice of words “a gentle way to describe the meeting.” Fallon objected, noting “the minutes should reflect facts and not the opinion of whoever’s taking them. Whether or not [the meeting] is heated or not is of no concern.” He moved to amend Hagedorn’s motion for approval, in order “to strike the words ‘heated discussion.” The discussion to remove the word “heated” took almost 20 minutes.
However, the board voted six to four against the altered motion and for the original one to approve the minutes. Fallon expressed his disapproval of having to wait for the minutes. He said, “I don’t like it that we receive the minutes at the last minute. We don’t have [them] until very close to the next meeting.” He felt strongly that “the minutes of meetings should serve as a working plan for what to do at the next meeting. It’s important that we have them as close to the meeting as possible.”
Hagedorn apologized and said she’d try to have them available earlier in the future.
In the midst of a discussion on fundraising, Hagedorn noted that, in regard to this summer’s Fun Run, “it’s come up that there’s not really been very good communication. The events (race) will happen, but there was some angst.”
Fallon took issue with the way the committee’s two chairs, Cindy Baute and Hagedorn, had handled communication related to this summer’s Fun Run. (The Fun Run is a major fundraiser for the medical center.) He felt that once he had found someone to assist with helping with the fundraiser, Baute and Hagedorn should have been available to organize it. “I’m operating on the assumption that the fundraising committee will be coordinating it,” Fallon said.
“We didn’t hear that,” Baute said.
“As President of the board, do you want me to be running [these events]?” Fallon asked.
Baute said, “We didn’t think it was our role to run it.” Pam Hinthorn agreed it was the role of the fundraising chairs to oversee events such as the Fun Run, but qualified her statement by acknowledging that as Secretary and Vice-president, Hagedorn and Baute were already “overwhelmed.”
She suggested that the committee find people in the community with whom to share responsibilities. Fallon insisted that it was the responsibility of the fundraising committee and particularly the chairs “to focus on these things.” Agreeing with Hinthorn that she felt overextended, Hagedorn said, “Pam, I do think it’s a lot of responsibility that’s [placed] on us right now. I don’t like doing things if I’m being criticized.”
Hinthorn denied that she was criticizing, adding, “We need to rethink how to organize this. We should have separate persons.”
Fallon said, “I’m getting the feeling you will not be running the Fun Run.”
Hagedorn said, “Actually, I like doing the fundraising, but being secretary and fundraising is overwhelming.”
Treasurer Pete Tweedy suggested that perhaps, at another meeting, time should be set aside to define the roles of those serving on the board. He felt that it was important to specify responsibilities, in order to avoid miscommunication and conflict in the future. Members agreed the issue deserved more time for consideration.The board meeting adjourned and was immediately followed by the annual meeting.