Timing of Erlanger's board of trustees appointment raises questions

Timing of Erlanger's board of trustees appointment raises questions

December 9th, 2011 by Mariann Martin and Ansley Haman in News

Erlanger Hospital is located on 3rd Street in Chattanooga.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Jim Brexler

County Mayor Jim Coppinger has appointed a new person to Erlanger's board of trustees, but the newcomer is out of the country and won't be able to cast important votes relating to CEO Jim Brexler's resignation.

Though the board has taken no official action on Brexler's departure, many of its members signaled a lack of confidence in him last month when polled individually by the hospital's general counsel, hospital trustee James A. Worthington said Thursday.

The hospital announced on Nov. 18 that Brexler would resign in the "next several weeks." An unanswered question at the time was whether Brexler would be entitled to a severance package. No board vote has been taken on that matter.

"We have a responsibility to be fair to Mr. Brexler," Worthington said. "But we have a bigger responsibility to be fair the citizens of Hamilton County."

The 11-member board of trustees has held three meetings in the past month, one the day before the hospital announced Brexler was leaving, once on Nov. 17 and again on Nov. 29. Usually the board meets once a month.

The board had a lengthy meeting Wednesday night, which Trustee James "Donnie" Hutcherson described as a "legal briefing" to discuss issues with Brexler's resignation.

"He (Brexler) does have a contract and we are trying to work through that process," Hutcherson said. "We are looking forward to a transition toward a new leadership."

On Wednesday, the board met without former board Chairman Dan Quarles, whose term recently ended and whose replacement was approved earlier that day by county commissioners.

Commissioners approved the appointment of Michael J. Griffin, a vice president at First Tennessee Bank, to replace Quarles.

In the past, most board members whose terms have expired have stayed in the unpaid position until a replacement can seated which, in the past, sometimes has taken months.

Before the commission meeting on Wednesday, Worthington went to Coppinger's office.

"I just went in and asked if it would be possible to make the new replacement's appointment effective Jan. 1 to give us more time because there are many things we as trustees needed to consider in our negotiations with Mr. Brexler," Worthington said.

James (Jim) Worthington of Erlanger

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Coppinger said Worthington "didn't say specifically 'delay it to January.'"

"He asked me when the appointment was going to be made," the mayor said.

"In my opinion there's been nothing done that was anything but down the line," Worthington said. "Jim Coppinger is a straight arrow. I've known him since he was a little boy."

Worthington said he and other trustees wanted Quarles to remain on the board because "it made sense that we had an informed person sitting in that position rather than having a vacant position."

Coppinger said he knew Brexler was resigning but was unaware of any discussion about a potential severance package.

Quarles didn't attend Wednesday night's meeting because he's no longer on the board, but he said one of his priorities when he was still on the board was to appoint an interim CEO.

On Nov. 29, the board appointed Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson as interim CEO. Quarles said it was important that, after Brexler's announcement, "that we still have leadership in the hospital."

Brexler's contract provides several ways for termination. One is by agreement, the terms of which can be specified byeach side in writing. The board also can fire him without cause, in which case he could be entitled to 18 months of severance pay and benefits. A third is for the board to fire him with cause, which would not permit severance pay.

The hospital's Nov. 18 statement described Brexler's departure as a retirement.

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