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ECU trustees want Vidant to restore seats

Max

ECU Trustee Max Joyner

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Ginger Livingston

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A resolution intended to show unanimous support for the UNC System in an ongoing dispute with Vidant Medical Center fell one vote short because an East Carolina University Board of Trustees member was not fully informed of the action in advance, the member said.

East Carolina University trustees voted 12-1 to pass the resolution Friday urging Vidant Health officials and the Pitt County Board of Commissioners to restore the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors’ authority to appoint 45 percent of the Vidant Medical Center Board of Trustees.

The action is vital to ensure that the N.C. General Assembly appropriates $200 million for a new building for the Brody School of Medicine, the resolution says. The legislature included the money in its budget plan on the condition UNC’s seats are restored.

“It was important to show the folks over at East Carolina University Physicians and Brody (School of Medicine) that the East Carolina University Board of Trustees support their efforts,” new ECU Trustee Robbie Moore, who introduced the resolution, said after Friday’s vote. “I think there had been some questions by ECU folks that previous trustees hadn’t been as supportive of getting our nine seats back on Vidant Medical.”

Trustee Max Joyner Jr. said during Friday’s meeting that he objected to the resolution because he was not given time to thoroughly consider it. He also said it’s a moot point until the budget, which was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, is approved.

Vidant and county commissioners took action in April that rescinded the Board of Governors’ authority. The UNC governors have been part of the process since the mid-1970s, when Vidant, then Pitt County Memorial Hospital, became the teaching hospital affiliated with ECU’s medical school. The UNC System invested in improvements to the hospital’s facility. The medical school’s physician-faculty also oversaw departments in the hospital.

The rules for appointing the hospital’s board of trustees have been modified over the decades. Prior to the recent change, Pitt County commissioners appointed 11 of the board’s 20 members and the UNC Board of Governors appointed nine.

Under the newly approved rules, the hospital’s Board of Trustees would now appoint individuals to the seats held by the UNC governors. Nominees would be recommended by Vidant Health’s Board of Directors. The new rules would require Vidant to appoint two people who hold leadership positions at ECU.

Removing UNC from the appointment process triggered a lawsuit pitting UNC and ECU against Vidant and the county commissioners. Mediation is currently underway and there is a temporary restraining order preventing Vidant from making any appointments to fill any of the vacant seats that were once the Board of Governors responsibility.

Moore said it is his understanding that the Board of Governors are concerned that the previous ECU Board of Trustees didn’t fully support the governors’ efforts to retain its nine appointments to the hospital board. ECU trustees did have several emergency closed session meetings after the lawsuit was filed but no action was taken publicly.

The only statement from the ECU’s trustees came in late May when Kieran Shanahan, the board chairman at the time, said ECU’s trustees were never told the university was going to be named as a plaintiff along with the university system. Shanahan said no vote was taken about bringing the lawsuit.

Shanahan went on to say the university and the medical school “enjoy and appreciate its longstanding very good relations with Vidant and what we do for the health and well being for the people of eastern North Carolina.” He said he hoped good relations would continue.

Moore said he presented the resolution to show the current Board of Trustees fully supported the efforts to get the seats returned once the legislature resolves the budget stalemate with Cooper.

Joyner said other members apparently had been informed about the resolution in advance and he wanted the same consideration. Trustee Jason Poole countered that he was asked during his first board meeting in 2017 to vote on a resolution supporting former Chancellor Cecil Staton. Poole said in a later interview there are times when issues are raised at board meetings but members can still make decisions.

The board entered a closed session for further discussion on the matter — the stated reason was to consult with an attorney on the matter, which officials said is allowed under state open meetings laws.

When the board emerged from the session they took a vote to grant tenure to three professors before returning to the resolution.

Board chairman Vern Davenport asked about making a motion to refer the resolution to a committee, but it wasn’t possible because a motion to approve it already was on the table. There was a discussion about bringing a substitute motion to table action but a motion was not offered.

Joyner re-iterated he wasn’t opposed to the resolution itself but would vote against it because he had not been previously notified and because he believed the budget limbo made it a moot point.

“We wanted a unanimous vote. I’ll let him speak for the reason why he didn’t vote for it,” Moore said. “I don’t believe it’s because he hadn’t received long-term notice. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that needed advance notice.”

Joyner said Saturday good governance means studying issues. He said he first learned about the resolution Thursday night when UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith asked him if he was going to support the resolution. They were at a reception. The ECU trustees had been together all day Thursday and no one had mentioned the resolution, Joyner said.

“If it was that important, I feel like someone should have sat me down and said here is the purpose of the resolution, here is what we are trying to accomplish, do you see anything you’d like to change or add or have any questions,” Joyner said. “What we are trying to do is get good communications with the board members.”

When questioned about supporting the lawsuit and the efforts of UNC’s governors to regain its hospital seats, Joyner said, “It’s in mediation now and we’ve been advised not to discuss it.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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