County leaders have chances to show strength in days ahead

Published 2:20 am Friday, January 12, 2007

By Staff
Members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners have an opportunity to prove what they’re made of following their decision to have the county’s mental-health patients served by East Carolina Behavioral Health.
When they voted 5-2 to jump ship and go against the recommendation made by Tideland Mental Health Center’s Area Board of Directors, they surely made waves. So, in the days ahead, county leaders — regardless of how they voted — have the opportunity to show they do, indeed, deserve the chairs that voters put them in.
Tideland’s board had recommended a merger with Albemarle Mental Health Center, the Elizabeth City-based agency that has been providing screening, triage and referrals for local patients since July.
That recommendation was then publicly endorsed by Tideland’s own psychiatrists, who made arguments to continue the relationship that was already in place. The partnership between Tideland and Albemarle is working well, they said.
Kala Kolappa, Tideland’s medical director, said Albemarle is the better merger option for patients in the region partly because Albemarle doesn’t intend to divest of the direct services it provides. “Programs that have totally divested have suffered because of it,” she said. Divestiture doesn’t work in rural areas, she said.
On Monday night, Tideland’s finance officer detailed the dollars-and-cents portion of the equation that has been mentioned in previous meetings. She said a merger with Albemarle would likely eventually mean that the county would have to put up less money to get mental-health services for its residents. The counties served by Albemarle — those in the northeast — pay $1 per capita for their residents to receive mental-health services. Beaufort County, served by Tideland, pays $3.75 per capita.
All of the other counties served by Tideland — Hyde, Martin, Washington and Tyrrell — voted unanimously to be served by Albemarle. Considering all of that, it took guts for most Beaufort County commissioners to swim against the current and vote to go with ECBH, which is also often referred to as East Carolina Behavioral Alliance.
But wait. If the commissioners are up to snuff, they didn’t make this decision willy-nilly.
Taking turns, Beaufort County leaders attended several meetings — even had some conducted just for themselves. They were the last ones to vote on the merger matter, and there was certainly legwork and deliberation. Commissioner Al Klemm said he went to every meeting he could before making a decision.
And there has to be some degree of trust, one would think, in the county’s representative on the Tideland board, Commissioner Jerry Langley. If they can’t trust his judgment, he doesn’t belong on that board.
In the coming months, commissioners who voted for ECBH have the obligation to continue to be deliberate as they tie up loose ends and seal the deal. No, they don’t “have” to prove anything to voters. But it never hurts to show voters that their leaders are worthy of trust.
On the other hand, the coming days may show that commissioners Hood Richardson and Stan Deatherage were right to support a merger with Albemarle. Deatherage did say of Richardson that he sometimes is “the wee and correct voice in the wilderness.”
If that turns out to be the case, the commissioners who voted in the majority have just as much responsibility to change course.
In the days ahead, all commissioners who voted Monday night have a chance to show they were worthy of being chosen as leaders. And those actions will be remembered long after the merger dust settles.