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In another abrupt resignation, Pat Kusek departs the Endowment board after less than six months

Pat Kusek, seen here delivering the 'state of the county' as vice-chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in 2020.
Mike Volkmar
Pat Kusek, seen here delivering the 'state of the county' as vice-chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in 2020.

Kusek was instrumental in the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center and the creation of the New Hanover Community Endowment. Her controversial appointment last year was seen as part of a larger effort to rein in the Endowment and tie it more closely to the county's goals.

On Wednesday, the New Hanover Community Endowment announced that board member Patricia Kusek was resigning, less than half a year after her appointment to the board.

In a very brief statement, Endowment Board Chair Bill Cameron wrote, “We thank Patricia for her work on our first strategic grant cycle and wish her well going forward."

Kusek does not appear to have sent a formal letter to the county to inform them of her resignation, only a brief email to the county clerk on Thursday evening.

WHQR reached out to Kusek for comment, but has not heard back. This article will be updated with any response.

Kusek's time on the Endowment board was brief but eventful. During her tenure, the Endowment made its first round of 'strategic grants' — multi-year, multi-million dollar grants guided by the Endowment's strategic plan (and, by extension, the county's strategic goals). The Endowment also saw the abrupt departure of William Buster, who was effectively pushed out — likely over differences in how the Endowment had been operating.

Related: The Dive: Out With the New (The Assembly/WHQR)

In September, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners appointed former Republican commissioners Pat Kusek and Woody White to the New Hanover Community Endowment in a party-line vote. This effectively removed Hannah Gage and Dr. Virginia Adams, the county’s only appointee of color. Some saw the move as an important corrective to realign the Endowment with its founding documents; others, including Attorney General Josh Stein, expressed concerns.

Related: Behind the recent appointment vote, a deeper debate about the New Hanover Community Endowment’s billion-dollar future

Kusek and White served as commissioners as New Hanover County explored the sale of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. The process ended with a multi-billion dollar sale of NHRMC to Novant Health, and the creation of $1.25 billion Endowment.

At the time, Kusek was perhaps the most outspoken critic of attempts to politicize the Endowment, warning residents in a StarNews opinion piece to “make note of the politics involved in each and every appointment." Kusek’s concerns helped steer the founding documents away from early suggestions that over a billion dollars from the NHRMC sale simply end up in the county’s general fund, or in a specialized trust overseen directly by the county.

The move to appoint Kusek and White was criticized by Democratic commissioners Rob Zapple, who said at the time there was no way to ignore the political overtones of the decision; and Jonathan Barfield, who criticized the removal of the county's only Black appointee to the Endowment.

Attorney General Josh Stein, who had mandated two additional Endowment board positions to expand its diversity when his office approved the sale of NHRMC and the creation of the Endowment, said his office had "serious concerns" about the appointments. However, Stein's office never took any action or made any additional statements about it. His office said it could not speak to Kusek's departure.

Commissioner Dane Scalise, who voted in favor of the appointments alongside fellow Republicans Vice-Chair LeAnn Pierce and Chair Bill Rivenbark, denied that the move was political, pointing instead to the need to realign the Endowment with its original goals, as laid out by the county when it was created.

"The best way to create realignment with the Endowment, and the Commission was to put two folks on there that previously served as commissioners and intimately knew what the endowment is supposed to be now, and what it is supposed to be in the future," Scalise told WHQR in September.

County manager Chris Coudriet, who noted he was also there at the "conception" of the Endowment, agreed with that assessment.

According to New Hanover County, the vacancy will be advertised by Monday; a county spokesperson said a vote on a new appointment is expected during the April 15 Board of Commissioners meeting.

[Disclosure notice: Zapple is a member of WHQR's Board of Directors, which has no role in editorial decisions.]

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.