Supervisors appoint VMH Board of Trustees on split vote in special session

by Joe Moses

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met Wednesday, November 30 in special session to address a short agenda of matters relating to the rescinding of a motion appointing a temporary Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) Board of Trustees and the discussion and consideration of appointing permanent VMH Board of Trustees members.

The meeting began with the discussion and consideration of rescinding motion 22.417 appointing temporary VMH Board of Trustees, with that initial motion being made at a November 17 special Supervisors session but later discovered to not be allowed by State of Iowa Code. Allamakee County Attorney Anthony Gericke noted that the language within Iowa Code does not allow a temporary or transitional board. He recommended that this motion be rescinded with Supervisor Dan Byrnes noting that he made that original motion at the November 17 Supervisors meeting, appointing Jim Sewick, Kevin Hanson, Patty Nordheim and Dennis Lyons as the temporary Board of Trustees. At the November 30 Supervisors meeting, Byrnes motioned to rescind motion 22.417, with Chairperson Larry Schellhammer and Supervisor Mark Reiser also in agreement and that matter being approved.

The meeting moved into the discussion and consideration of appointing permanent VMH Board of Trustees members. Gericke discussed additional research performed including consultations with Attorney Katie Cownie of the Dorsey Whitney Law Firm, indirect feedback from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office in addition to applicable information previously provided by the Iowa Attorney General’s office. Gericke noted a recent conversation with Winneshiek County Attorney Andrew Van Der Maaten relating to board appointments involving the Winneshiek County Medical Center. Gericke advised that unless otherwise provided by State statute, a County Supervisor may serve as a member of any appointed board, commission or committee of the state, a political subdivision of the state, or a non-profit corporation or agency receiving county funds, with Gericke further clarifying that it would be allowable for a Supervisor to serve on VMH’s Board of Trustees.

Gericke added that, similarly, a Supervisor is allowed to serve on a board of education or conservation board, per guidance from the Secretary of State. He summarized that, “Through my own research, the follow-up research from Dorsey Whitney, prior conversations with the Attorney General’s office, and case law received from the Secretary of State, all seem to point to the fact that someone from the Board of Supervisors could simultaneously serve on the Board of Trustees.”

Schellhammer advised that some compromise may be necessary by each of the Supervisors relating to the make-up of the Board of Trustees with appointees needing to be willing and capable of serving in this capacity. Schellhammer provided a list of three names including Dan Byrnes, Greg Lage and Dave Weymiller as his recommendation to be added to the list of four previous Board of Trustees members that included Jim Sewick, Kevin Hanson, Patty Nordheim and Dennis Lyons.

Byrnes provided his recommendation relating to appointments in addition to the list of four Board of Trustees to include himself, Mark Reiser and Paul Whalen. Byrnes also suggested Supervisor-elect Dennis Keatley as a potential appointee, but also noted that he and Keatley have not yet had a conversation relating to Keatley’s interest in serving in this capacity.

Reiser recommended that no more than three of the previous Trustees be carried over to the permanent board. He noted feedback he has received from residents relating to the need for countywide representation on the VMH Board of Trustees with the four current Waukon area members representing a majority on this seven-person board. Reiser recommended that one of the current four Trustees step away from the Board to allow for more countywide representation with four new members from across the county.

Byrnes noted that Weymiller, Lage and Whalen would provide countywide representation as additions to the Board of Trustees and questioned whether the Waukon area majority is an issue with all involved wanting the hospital to be successful with the best interests of the County in mind. Byrnes further noted the challenges faced by those new to this role, with keeping the four existing Board members his recommendation with three new appointees.

Trustees member Lyons echoed similar thoughts relating to the make-up of the Board of Trustees by advising, “I think it is prudent to keep the four current Board members due to the complexities of medical finances and hospital management. Everyone on this Board has the best interest in mind for health care in Allamakee County and its ongoing success in providing services and in maintaining the hospital. We try to build a consensus when making decisions and we have been successful with that. I don’t see why we wouldn’t be with three new Board members. If there are issues with that, in two years all seven of the Board positions are up for re-election.”

Beyer further noted that all seven positions on the Board of Trustees will be on the General Election ballot in 2024 as two-year and four-year terms. Byrnes provided a recap of the names suggested as appointments, adding that Paul Whalen of New Albin would be beneficial to this board due to his experience in finance and having served as an EMT, both being assets to this role.

Via Zoom web-conferencing, Whalen noted his appreciation for the discussion taking place relating to what he described as a very complex issue. Whalen also noted his respect for Lyons and the need for continuity moving forward, but also that he would not be comfortable serving in this role with a minority vote, with his recommendation to have four new appointments for countywide representation on this seven-person board.

Byrnes further clarified that this will be a transition board and noted that all seven seats will be voted upon as part of the 2024 General Election. Byrnes motioned to appoint permanent Board of Trustees members including Dan Byrnes, Greg Lage, Dave Weymiller, Patty Nordheim, Dennis Lyons, Kevin Hanson and Jim Sewick.

Reiser further discussed his recommendation for four new appointments to the Board of Trustees for countywide representation. The list of appointments made in the motion was approved by split vote as listed, with Byrnes and Schellhammer voting to approve and Reiser voting against.

Some additional discussion took place relating to plans for the Board of Trustees to be sworn in by Judge John Bauercamper. CEO Michael Coyle of VMH added that the regular VMH Board meeting will be held December 20 with the delayed November meeting potentially rescheduled for December 6 now that a permanent board has been appointed.