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KH trustees
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It’s been a turbulent year for the board of trustees at KershawHealth, with flowing red ink, major management changes and a transition in leadership of the board itself. Given all that, and with the future of the hospital as a locally owned institution at stake, it would make perfect sense for board members to ensure an open and transparent -- yes, that’s an overused word, but it’s appropriate -- process as they search for an interim CEO to fill the position of Donnie Weeks, who recently stepped down under pressure. After all, public trust in the hospital has never been more vital. Yet that hasn’t happened. Trustees have conducted the search in a manner that experts in the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) say is inappropriate and possibly illegal. That’s not the way to inspire public trust.

Statements from board officials have been vague and contradictory about whether the two people interviewed recently were the only finalists for the job. But, according to a 2007 ruling by the S.C. Supreme Court, those names should have been released along with those of any other finalists. Until Monday night, the board had declined to give the names of any of the 28 candidates who had expressed interest in the job. Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association (SCPA), said the board’s stance had been a “blatant abuse of public trust,” and SCPA attorney Jay Bender, the state’s pre-eminent expert on FOIA matters, said the board’s handling of the matter had been inappropriate at best, illegal at worst. The names of two candidates were released Monday night, but even then, there was disagreement about whether or not there were other finalists.

We don’t believe board members have ulterior motives or are acting in anything other than what they perceive to be the public’s best interest. We also understand that conducting such an open search is more difficult than doing so in private, and that some of those job candidates probably want to keep their intentions secret. But KershawHealth trustees weren’t called upon out of the blue to serve; they weren’t drafted for the job. They offered to serve, and in some cases campaigned for the positions. Kershaw County Council appointed them in what seemed to be an open process, and they should observe the same procedure in dealing with this important matter.

We agree with Bender’s assessment that the finalists -- however many there are -- should at some point in this process meet with other constituencies, such as hospital medical and support staff, and public officials. With the importance of this choice, that’s a logical position to take. KershawHealth board members have a vital task ahead of them, and there is some chance that the person chosen as interim CEO could move forward to become the permanent chief executive. But whether that happens or not, there has been enough controversy at the hospital; it’s time for trustees to treat this like the public matter that it is and let the sun shine on the process.