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Rice board hopes for speedy decision on term limits

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News Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The timing isn't the best. Three members of Rice Memorial Hospital's seven-member board of directors are facing term limits and will be off the board on Dec. 31 -- unless the Willmar city charter can be changed to allow hospital board appointees to serve longer.

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The hospital board is asking the Charter Commission to speed up its decision. A formal letter to the commission went out this past week.

Bob Bonawitz, chairman of the Charter Commission, said the hospital board's request is under consideration.

The commission is still discussing and reviewing proposed changes to the city charter and hasn't made any decisions yet, he said Wednesday.

"We want to try to have the whole thing done by the end of the year," he said. "If there's an urgency, we should probably try to address that too."

The loss of almost half the board could hamstring the city-owned hospital while it waits for Willmar Mayor Les Heitke to appoint three new members.

"We don't want to be behind the eight-ball," said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital.

Rice has sought for several years to have the city charter revised to allow longer terms for hospital board members. The current limit is two three-year terms, or a maximum of six years. The board and hospital officials want to see the limit raised to 12 years.

They have cited the increasing complexity of running a hospital, and the amount of time it takes for board members to become educated and effective.

Continuity is especially critical right now. Rice underwent a turnover in leadership this past year, bringing Schramm on board at the beginning of June. The hospital also is launching a major strategic planning initiative this fall.

An increase in term limits would help keep the board of directors mostly intact while the strategic planning gets under way.

Terms expiring at the end of 2009 are those of Richard Engan, Dr. Robert Kruger and the board's chairman, Wayne Larson.

Bonawitz said the Charter Commission understands the hospital board's concerns.

It takes time to educate and develop board members into effective leaders, he said. "There is a lot to learn."

Charter Commission members have been meeting twice a month and will have their next meeting on Sept. 9.

"We're going through very carefully to review every article in the charter and have visits with everybody that would be impacted by this and have their input," Bonawitz said.

The commission has been leaning away from recommending a 12-year term limit for the Rice Hospital board and is looking at a nine-year limit instead, he said.

For unpaid board members to serve up to 12 years "seemed onerous," he said.

"No decision has been made, but my guess would be that's probably going to be the recommendation," he said of nine-year term limits.

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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