CMH seeks removal of board member Heiser
CENTREVILLE — The St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners will have a say on whether or not a Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services of St. Joseph County (CMH) board member will keep his position after allegations of misconduct and missing meetings.
The CMH board approved a three-page resolution at their meeting Tuesday requesting the county commission remove board member Antony Heiser, alleging in the resolution that he has “neglected his official duties, has engaged in misconduct, and has otherwise violated various provisions of the established Board Policies and Practices of the Authority.”
Tuesday’s vote to approve the resolution was 8-3, with board members Cathi Abbs, Carol Naccarato and Elizabeth Roberts dissenting. Notably, Heiser was one of the eight board members that agreed to send along the resolution.
Heiser, who has been on the board for six years, is alleged to have failed to attend four regularly-scheduled meetings in 2020, failed to attend five regularly-scheduled meetings in 2021, and to have been “repeatedly declared to be out of order” during board meetings in February and March of this year, and “became inappropriately combative and disruptive regarding the matters then before the Board.”
The fourth and final allegation against Heiser claims that he violated a provision in the board’s code of conduct that says board members cannot “attempt to exercise individual authority over the organization.” It alleges three instances of this violation:
- On “various dates” in 2022, according to the resolution, Heiser reportedly engaged in “several meetings” with representatives of CMH’s collective bargaining unit, “purportedly acting on behalf of the Board in those discussions” and “usurping” CEO Kristine Kirsch’s authority to coordinate labor relations;
- On April 26, Heiser reportedly entered the CMH facility “unannounced” and interviewed various staff members, “interfering with their work on behalf of the Authority” and “potentially compromising consumer confidentiality during periods in which he was not supervised on premises;” and
- On April 27, Heiser reportedly attempted to call CMH’s legal counsel, without direction from or knowledge of the board, regarding a recently-adopted board policy against nepotism to a candidate for the CEO position.
According to the resolution, Heiser received a written statement of the allegations and a meeting of the CMH board’s Executive Committee was held on May 12 regarding the situation with Heiser in attendance. During the meeting, the committee concluded that Heiser may be removed “on the bases of misconduct and neglect of duty.”
Heiser defended himself against the allegations during Tuesday’s meeting. For the first two allegations, he wondered why his absences were being brought up now instead of back in 2020 and 2021. He noted his wife was ill and hospitalized twice in 2020 and was “more important than anything else going on in my life at the time.”
As for the allegations of violating the code of conduct, Heiser’s defense was that when he was talking to anybody about collective bargaining, he was doing so “as a human being, not as a board member.”
“I never once told anybody, ‘As a board member I promise you this and that.’ That’s not how it went,” Heiser said. “I don’t undermine anything the board was doing. I was just investigating things on my own because I wasn’t happy with the answers I was getting.”
With the issue of the call to the lawyer, Heiser said the issue stems back to the nepotism policy that was changed at a previous meeting, which added a clause that barred CMH’s CEO from hiring immediate relatives of employees. He said he called the lawyer to ask whether or not the policy as it was written before the change was sufficient enough to prevent a nepotism hire, in which he said the lawyer responded that they “weren’t sure,” and that they would check into it. He then said he got a letter from board chair Rick Shaffer some time after saying what he did was “a violation.”
In his explanation of his actions with the lawyer, he made mention of former CMH Chief Operating Officer Jessica Singer, who according to Kirsch left the agency in 2021 in part because of the nepotism policy, as Singer’s mother is CMH’s human resource director, and an auditor letter the agency received that stated they could lose funding because of a potential nepotism hire for CEO. Kirsch said in a text conversation Wednesday Singer, who currently works at another behavioral health center, applied for the CEO position but did not get an interview because of the policy.
“I didn’t call [the lawyer] up and say, ‘Why can’t Jessica Singer be the CEO,’ that’s not how the conversation went,” Heiser said. “When [the lawyer] said this was in confidence, when I asked about it being confidential, I said, ‘Well, I feel possibly a policy has been weaponized to block somebody from having a fair shot at the CEO position,’ and that’s when I mentioned Jessica’s name.”
The CEO position eventually went to current Chief Financial Officer Cameron Bullock after interviews that took place May 10.
Abbs reiterated to Heiser that the main point of the policy was because of the auditor letter and the potential of CMH losing funding, which she said was the reasoning brought up in a previous board meeting. Heiser said he called the auditor who authored the letter for clarification on the matter and whether it would cost CMH funding, and Heiser claims the auditor told him, “I can’t say that for sure.” When asked if Heiser followed up with the auditor on why they put the wording in the letter if they weren’t sure, Heiser said he did not ask that question.
Heiser said Shaffer asked during the Executive Committee meeting if he was “sorry” for his actions, to which he said he replied he was “not sorry.”
“I like truth. I like transparency. Chairman Shaffer asked me if I was sorry for what I did. I’m not sorry. I may be sorry about how I went about it, but I’m not going to apologize for wanting to know the truth and transparency,” Heiser said. “I apologize for the way I went about it. If I cost us $60, $80, send me the bill.”
Board member Kay Decker said she didn’t have a problem with what Heiser did, but was “heartbroken” that he didn’t initially apologize for the problems he caused the board. Abbs then said there are “times to ask questions,” but the particular issue about the policy had been discussed at length by the board in the past.
“I don’t think there’s anyone that doesn’t want the truth here. If there is, I don’t know who it is. I agree with you and I do think it’s okay to ask questions. I was just disappointed in this particular point because there were five of us [on the policy committee], and I’m telling you, we took it pretty seriously. Believe me, there was a lot of discussion, and we didn’t want to take that answer on its own either,” Abbs said.
The discussion then shifted to figuring out if Heiser had any trust issues with either board members or administration, something many of the board members seemed to pick up from Heiser’s actions, and wondered openly about during discussion. When pressed on if he had trust issues, Heiser admitted that while he doesn’t have issues with board members, he does have trust issues with the agency itself and how it’s run, saying that people are “too close.”
When asked if there was a way the distrust could be resolved, Heiser said, “I don’t know.”
Board member Dennis Allen said as the agency starts with a new CEO in Bullock, he hopes trust will increase among board members moving forward.
“Today is Kris’ last day, and you’re gonna start with a new director. Sooner or later, I would hope that from the ground up we’d trust the new CEO, because we have no reason not to,” Allen said.
Board member Kathy Pangle said she believed Heiser already doesn’t like the new CEO, because he “had [his] heart set on a different CEO, and it didn’t happen.” Heiser was one of two, along with Roberts, who dissented in the May 10 vote on naming Bullock the new CEO. Heiser said he “didn’t have an answer for that.”
“I’ll have my day in court, I guess,” Heiser said as he made his vote, referring to the county commission’s upcoming decision on his future on the board.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.