(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify a quote and what agencies will choose members of the new board.)
Citing concerns with the politics and transparency of the process of merging her agency, the Lorain County Board of Mental Health, with the county Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, Executive Director Kathleen Kern has announced her plans to resign her post as of June 30.
Kern confirmed Tuesday she will resign her position prior to the July 1 deadline to merge the boards over concerns about how the process is playing out. Lorain County Commissioners set a deadline of July 1 to have 18 board members in place on a new, merged board.
Lorain County is the last remaining county in Ohio to have separate mental health and addiction services boards, something commissioners voted to change in March.
As part of her criticism, Kern said Lorain County officials do not appear to be giving enough weight to input from the boards they elected to merge, both of which submitted recommendations for new members to serve on the merged board. Elaine Georgas, her counterpart at the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, echoed those same concerns when reached for comment Tuesday.
Georgas called the process “a tender topic at this point,” as neither her board nor Kern’s board currently is involved in the transition process.
County officials countered the criticism by noting that no final appointments have been made, either from the recommended list or from other applicants interviewed by Commissioners.
Kern cited as a catalyst for her resignation a “fundamental difference in judgment with local government leadership regarding the process of merging the two boards,” that she believes “seems to be to eliminate and replace the two boards, rather than to merge them.”
The whole process has become “chaotic,” said Kern, who has served as executive director of the Board of Mental Health for the past two years. She has 12 years’ service with the board prior to rising to executive director, she said.
Under state law, county Commissioners are the appointing authority for the members of the newly merged boards, based on recommendations by the current boards and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Commissioners will appoint 10 members and the Ohio MHAS will appoint eight members to the new board.
Denying that any politics are involved in the interview and selection process, County Administrator Jim Cordes on Tuesday noted that commissioners “haven’t appointed anybody yet.”
Kern “must be a pretty good mind reader. They haven’t made any appointments,” he said.
While her board was in favor of the merger, Kern said the process of merging also is important. She said the whole plan has gone awry, with county officials making decisions outside the advice of experts in their fields.
“From my perspective, the fundamental difference is the board has to be an independent entity that is not influenced by political factors” such as a shared political philosophy or party, Kern said.
Georgas said she has heard the same concerns about commissioners appointing people “based on whether they have a shared philosophy with the commissioners” Kern cited.
Cordes said the selection process has nothing to do with political philosophy, and both he and Lundy said it has been transparent from the beginning.
Fourteen ADAS board members sought appointment to the merged board, along with 15 mental health board members. Those names previously announced for consideration were Sherrie Hairston, Sandra Premura, Karen McIlwaine, James Schaeper and Greg Zilka from the ADAS board and mental health board members Tracey Frierson, Joe Hribar, Naji McCall, Hope Moon and Debra Singleton.
Recommended to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for appointment to the merged board were Arthur Cleary, Kara Keating Copeland, David Ditullo and Pamela Waite of ADAS; and David Ashenhurst, Tim Carrion, Denise Eacott and Karen Sutera of mental health. Alternate reappointments were Diamalen Bermudez and Regina Costantino from the mental health board and Margaret O’Bryon from ADAS.
Commissioner Matt Lundy said Tuesday that final approval of the candidates whose names were sent to the state for consideration has yet to take place.
Lundy said he was disappointed by the criticism. Commissioners take the appointments seriously, he said, and considered Lorain County’s diverse population as well as those with a personal stake in addiction and mental health services. Commissioners were candid with the candidates, and met with all of them even though they were not required to do so.
Ohio Revised Code Chapter 340 governs appointments to the planned joint board, and both Georgas and Kern said they believe the law recommends reappointing those with prior service on the boards to be merged “to the greatest extent possible.”
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