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Former NHC commissioners White and Kusek seek appointment to New Hanover Community Endowment

The historic New Hanover County Courthouse, where county commissioners hold regular meetings.
Benjamin Schachtman
The historic New Hanover County Courthouse, where county commissioners hold regular meetings.

A two-year ‘cooling’ off period has expired, meaning former New Hanover County commissioners Woody White and Patricia Kusek are now eligible to be appointed. Before leaving office in 2020, Kusek was a vocal critic of politicizing the Endowment – then still in the planning stages — warning residents to “make note of the politics involved in each and every appointment."

On Monday, New Hanover County Commissioners will vote on two appointments to the $1.25 billion New Hanover Community Endowment.

The Endowment is the result of the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health, a process begun in 2019 and finalized in 2021. As part of the founding of the Endowment, the county agreed to appoint a minority of the board — five members. Novant Health’s regional board appoints six members. Two additional members, added to increase the board’s diversity as part of Attorney General Josh Stein's review of the hospital sale, are appointed by the Endowment board itself.

Current members Hannah Gage and Dr. Virginia Adams have both requested to be reappointed. Gage, who sits on the board of WUNC Public Radio and previously served 16 years on the UNC Board of Governors, was the Endowment’s vice-chair for the board’s first two years, alongside chair Spence Broadhurst. Adams, the former Dean of the UNCW School of Nursing, serves on the Endowment’s governance committee.

In a letter to Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Rivenbark, current Endowment Chair Bill Cameron noted that the Endowment board had voted in mid-August to recommend the reappointment of Adams and Gage. Cameron wrote that both members had been “outstanding and committed,” and asked the county to reappoint them both to ensure critical “continuity and stability” as the Endowment enters its second grant cycle. That cycle is currently accepting applications and aims to announce grantees by the end of the year; it’s the first under the Endowment’s strategic plan.

Both Woody White and Patricia Kusek, former commissioners who helped steer the hospital sale process and the creation of the Endowment — at the time referred to by some as the Community Foundation — have also applied for appointment to the Endowment. Both were barred from being appointed to the inaugural board by a two-year “cooling off” period, which was added to a meeting agenda by then-chair Julia Olson-Boseman in August 2020. The measure passed 4-1, with Kusek dissenting.

In his application, White wrote, “I am one of two people who conceived of this endowment and that initiated the complex and public process by which it was ultimately created, and am acutely aware of the promise it holds to effectuate transformative change in this community.”

In response to the application question, “what areas of concern would you like to see addressed?" White wrote, “I have made many public statements over the years that adequately answer this question and the by-laws and mission statement that we created set forth the areas and issues this committee should address.”

In her application, Kusek also referenced the creation of the Endowment, which she refers to as the Foundation.

“The Foundation has the means to make transformative change in this community in a big way … by following the by-laws which were created at its formation in 2020, this can happen,” Kusek wrote.

Back in 2020, Kusek was an outspoken critic of suggestions that the county keep the proceeds from the sale of NHRMC directly under its own oversight as a county foundation with members appointed solely by county commissioners. She argued that this would curtail the annual funding it would be able to generate. Splitting the appointments with the hospital board would avoid “the politics that would harm the credibility of a board solely appointed by New Hanover County Commissioners,” she argued in an opinion piece in the StarNews.

Kusek concluded that August 28, 2020 piece — entitled “Politics hijacking $1 billion fund from NHRMC sale" — by writing, “watch how the future Commissioners appoint members to this Community Foundation. Research who they are and their qualifications. Make note of the politics involved in each and every appointment. Watch out how and where future Commissioners spend your money. And, as the dollars get carved up for political purposes, you won’t have to wonder how in the name of heaven it all happened."

In addition to current members Adams and Gage and former commissioners Kusek and White, several other residents have also applied to a position on the Endowment board: Realtor James Branton, retired teacher Rebecca Clark, retired Harrelson Center Executive Director Victoria Dull, Coastal Horizons mental health therapist Jennifer Keeling, retired nonprofit volunteer Donna Shiro, and Michael Werner, a retired executive, founder of SMART recovery, and past president of the American Humanist Association.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meets Monday, September 18, at 9 a.m. in the historic downtown Wilmington courthouse at 24 N. Third St.

Below: Agenda item for appointments to the Endowment, including applications and Endowment Chair Bill Cameron's letter of recommendation.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.