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Community Advisory Council says it's been largely ignored by NHC Endowment, asks for more engagement

New Hanover Community Endowment.
Benjamin Schachtman
New Hanover Community Endowment.

The creation of the Community Advisory Council was a requirement of Attorney General Josh Stein to approve the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center and the creation of the New Hanover Community Endowment. The council recently wrote a letter addressed to Endowment leadership, saying they were being significantly underutilized.

In a letter sent to Endowment leaders last month, the Community Advisory Council wrote that its purpose had not been fulfilled over the last year and a half.

WHQR reviewed a copy of the April 8 letter, which was sent to Endowment Chairman Bill Cameron and Vice Chair Shannon Winslow with the approval of “a majority consensus” of the CAC. [Note: You can find a copy of the letter at the end of this article.]

The CAC letter notes that the chartered purpose of the CAC is to “provide advice” and “expert guidance” to the Endowment Board. “We do not believe this purpose has been fulfilled in the past 18 months and wish to deepen our engagement with the NHCE Board,” the CAC wrote.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Josh Stein’s office said “we are aware of the concerns and continuing to look into this.” Stein’s office is also tracking concerns about New Hanover County’s recent appointments to the Endowment board, which effectively removed Dr. Virginia Adams, the county’s only appointee of color, who also brought a background in nursing education to the board.

The specific concerns are outlined below, as is the limited response from Endowment leadership.

The letter notes the four key roles of the CAC, as laid out in its charter.

  1. To advise on challenges and opportunities within the community, potential focus areas for NHCE, and community needs and interests
  2. To develop reports on the above, alongside NHCE staff, that will be provided to the NHCE Board on a quarterly basis
  3. To provide subject matter expertise into the four pillars of focus of NHCE: education, health and social equity, public safety, and community development 
  4. To function as ambassadors between NHCE and the community

CAC concerns

In its letter, the CAC notes that it has only served in one of its chartered roles since its formation, leaving the other three unfulfilled.

“While often asked to serve as supportive ambassadors between NHCE and ‘the community,’ our first three functions remain unfulfilled. Due to a lack of substantive information sharing and/or feedback from the NHCE Board, our ability to provide valuable guidance and advice on challenges and opportunities has been limited. To date, we have created no relevant reporting and have not been asked to provide subject matter expertise on the NHCE’s four pillars of focus,” the CAC wrote.

The letter also notes that council members did not feel like the failure to utilize the CAC was “a reflection of NHCE staff.”

Council members asked for a meeting with Cameron and/or Winslow to discuss four specific suggestions ranging from better communication to representation at Endowment board meetings and even on the Endowment board itself. The letter also asks for more of a role in funding small to medium-sized nonprofits — an area where many nonprofit leaders expressed frustration following the Endowment’s first major strategic grant round last year.

The CAC asks include:

  1. Establishment of consistent feedback loop between NHCE Board and CAC that fosters dialogue, discussion, and direction.
  2. One (1) CAC member to attend NHCE Board meetings and have a non-voting role on the NHCE Board
  3. Allow the CAC to assist with identifying and making suggestions for funding of small to midsize nonprofits that best fit into the four pillars of impact
  4. NHCE Board designates one (1) board seat as a Community Board seat

Response, criticism

Neither Cameron nor Winslow agreed to an interview to discuss the CAC’s concerns. NHCE provided a statement from Winslow:

We’ve had several productive meetings with members of the CAC since receiving the letter. The CAC is an important part of our work and as we move forward the board is looking for ways to incorporate their experience and feedback to better serve the community.

NHCE did not respond to specific questions, including if the Endowment agreed with the CAC’s assessment that they were underutilized or, if it was accurate, why the Endowment had failed to use the CAC the way it was designed. Nor did NHCE respond to questions about whether the Endowment would grant any of CAC’s specific requests – including access to Endowment board meetings and the redesignation of a Community Board seat.

Many of the issues raised by the CAC have also been discussed by Haper Peterson, chairman of the recently-founded Heal Our People’s Endowment. The non-profit was created to put pressure on the Attorney General’s office to provide additional oversight of the Endowment. Peterson was a state senator during the sale of NHRMC, and was a vocal critic of the process — and a supporter of Save Our Hospital, Inc., a non-profit formed to oppose the sale (the Facebook page for which has been repurposed as Heal Our People's Endowment).

Related: The Dive: A new push for tighter AG's office oversight of the New Hanover Community Endowment

Peterson called the current CAC “window dressing,” and argued that it should be “the heart and soul of this endowment,” as he feels was Stein’s original intent in requiring it.

Below: Letter from the CAC to Endowment leadership.

April 9, 2024 letter from the Community Advisory Council to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the New Hanover Community Endowment.
April 9, 2024 letter from the Community Advisory Council to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the New Hanover Community Endowment.

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.