The Regional Medical Center’s chairman says the board followed the law when it decided not to renew the contract of hospital President and CEO Charles Williams.
Even so, Orangeburg County Council says it was kept in the dark about the board’s plans.
"We collectively feel that because Orangeburg County Council appoints the hospital board members, there has been an alarming and disheartening lack of respect for County Council throughout this process," Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright wrote in an Aug. 17 letter to the RMC trustees.
The hospital is owned by Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.
The RMC board voted Aug. 6 to not renew Williams’ contract. He’ll remain at the hospital until his three-year contract ends in December.
Orangeburg County Council asked the hospital board a number of questions in its Aug. 17 letter, including asking for documentation that the board’s Aug. 6 meeting complied with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
RMC Board Chairman the Rev. Dr. Caesar Richburg replied to the questions, saying the Aug. 6 meeting was held in compliance with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act and historical practice.
"The RMC posted the notice of the Aug. 6, 2020 meeting both on its website and within the RMC premises (in the ‘notices’ box outside of the administration area),” the letter states. “Prior to Aug. 21, 2020, local media had not requested to be individually advised of board meetings.”
“The Times & Democrat requested this individualized notice on Aug. 21, 2020, and it will be given moving forward," the letter continues. "The entirety of meeting, except for the final vote, was conducted in executive session."
Richburg wrote that the, “personnel and contractual matters discussed in executive session are privileged and confidential.”
"The employment agreement between RMC and Mr. Williams requires that RMC give written notice at least 120 days in advance of the end of the initial term if it chooses not to renew the agreement," Richburg said. "If the notice of non-renewal is not given, the employment agreement renews for a two-year term."
His letter said, "It was the board’s duty and obligation to vigorously examine RMC’s current operations and make the decision to renew or not renew. The Board of Trustees had a lengthy and robust discussion regarding the decision."
"Ultimately, the board decided that the challenges ahead for RMC required a careful strategic plan and new leadership," he said. "The board has been charged with ensuring that RMC stands the test of time. The board’s dedication to this is unwavering, even when it must make difficult decisions."
Defending the board's decision to not inform council, Richburg said, as an independent board, the board historically has made personnel decisions without input from Orangeburg County Council.
"Council is not involved in the daily operations of RMC and, therefore, has not been involved in making senior leadership decisions in the past," Richburg said. "Before advising the council chairs, the board wanted to communicate the decision to Mr. Williams and develop a communications plan that honored his privacy and considered the impact of the decision on RMC personnel."
"The board was concerned that communicating the decision without a communications plan in place would risk the news being leaked to the community or media before Mr. Williams had a chance to digest the decision and before RMC personnel were informed," he said.
Richburg said Williams’ evaluation raises privacy concerns.
“The board would be happy to discuss all formal and informal evaluations with council in executive session,” he said.
The letter also provides council with the breakdown of the vote to not renew the contract. The board’s attorney also provided a copy of the Aug. 6 meeting minutes to The T&D.
According to the minutes, the motion was made to renew the employment agreement for Williams.
"An individual voice vote was taken and the motion was not approved," the minutes state.
Voting to renew the contract were Gloria James, Gladys Arends, William Wilson, James Myers, Cynthia Keller, Dawn Robinson and Dr. Van Beth Shuler.
Voting to not renew the contact were Dr. Sonya Kay Ehrhardt, Dr. Rocco Cassone, Dr. Dion Franga, Betty Henderson, Dr. M.S. Nassri, John Shuler, Boyd McLeod and Dr. John Samies.
Richburg's letter noted “Robert's Rules of Order,” “recognizes the right of the chair to vote, but suggests that the chair protect impartiality by ‘exercising his voting right only when the vote would affect the outcome.’”
"Historically, the board has followed this suggestion, with the chair voting only when the vote would affect the outcome," the letter states.
Richburg ends the letter by again offering to visit with council in executive session to discuss the issues further.
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