Moran emphasizes need to prevent conflicts of interest
With concerns about the two applicants for the position, the Sarasota County commissioners this week agreed, by consensus, to have county staff continue to advertise an opening on the new Behavioral Health Advisory Council (BHAC).
Just two weeks ago, as Commissioner Michael Moran noted during the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 10, the commissioners spent hours listening to public comments from leaders of a wide variety of nonprofit organizations that have received funding from the county to provide behavioral health and human services programs.
With the reorganization of the process following the commission’s 2021 establishment of a Mental Health Care Special District — at Moran’s request — Moran has stressed that the commissioners made programs related to food, shelter, safety, mental health, substance abuse and jail diversion their priorities for county funding support.
The county’s BHAC is a new advisory board; the commissioners formally created it through approval of a July 11 resolution. Previously, the members of the county’s Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC) vetted all of the applications for funding for the behavioral health and human services programs and provided the commissioners their recommendations.
As noted in a county staff memo in the Oct. 10 agenda packet, the BHAC seat to be filled is to go to a “health services professional, psychiatrist, psychologist, or behavioral health professional, licensed to practice in the State of Florida.”
The three-year term would be in effect through June 2026, the memo said.
On Oct. 10, after Chuck Henry, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, noted that both applicants for the open seat were qualified, Moran talked about what he called “one of the foundational rules” for the reorganization of the annual county funding process for human services programs.
That rule, he said, was “to avoid power imbalances.”
The creation of the new funding system, Moran continued, resulted from what he called “stakeholder comments” that he had heard.
“These are actual quotes said to my face about the entire process [that previously was in place],” Moran told his colleagues:
- “Advisory boards have their favorites picked before the game even starts.”
- “You don’t have a chance [to win funding] unless you’re in the ‘in crowd.’ ”
- “It’s not worth the political garbage [to serve on what originally was just one advisory council that vetted the funding requests on an annual basis].”
Yet, on Oct. 10, Moran pointed out, one of the applicants presented to the commissioners for the open BHAC seat was Rose Chapman, who served as CEO of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of the Suncoast (JFCS) for approximately 23 years.
In her application, Chapman wrote that she worked for the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Sarasota-Manatee from September 1993 until Feb. 1, 2017.
The other applicant, Ethan Weiss, Moran said — as he understood the situation — “works for a vendor that is owned by a JFCS board member, and I like [the vendor] very much. I know them.”
In his application, Weiss wrote that he is a licensed clinical social worker who works with children and adolescents at Herrera Psychology in Osprey.
The only one of the two he possibly could foresee serving on the BHAC, in light of the new standards, Moran continued, was Weiss.
Commissioner Neil Rainford thanked Moran for his remarks. “Just a week or so ago,” Rainford added, “we had a lot of arrows faced our way just on this issue.”
Perhaps it is time, Rainford said, for the commission to establish a non-lobbying period for people who leave leadership positions at nonprofits or other organizations that routinely receive county funding, before such individuals are allowed to serve on advisory boards that handle issues that the persons dealt with in their careers. “I think we just have to be super cautious on this,” Rainford emphasized.
“I think we need to have a serious conversation about how we move forward on these appointments,” Commissioner Joe Neunder added. In regard to Chapman, he continued, “I don’t want to call it a conflict of interest, but it does … present questions in my mind.”
The commissioners need to make sure the process “is competitive, open and transparent,” Neunder pointed out, reflecting what Moran had said earlier.
If Moran felt appointing Weiss would be appropriate, Neunder added, that was fine. If not, he said, perhaps the seats should be advertised for another 30 days.
“This is millions and millions and millions of dollars going to the most needy in our community,” Moran responded, referring to the work of the BHAC and HSAC. “You’d think that we’d have 15 applicants stacked up.”
Then, referencing persons who addressed the commissioners that morning about the medical freedom resolution they ultimately approved on a 4-1 vote, Moran pointed out, “We had some incredible medical folks … speaking …” He encouraged them to apply for the advisory council seats. (See the related article in this issue.)
Commissioner Mark Smith told Moran, “I hear what you’re saying, obviously.” Nonetheless, Smith continued, he had read Weiss’ application and noted his credentials. Weiss still is “providing therapy for folks. I think that’s a positive thing,” as he is active in the type of role for which nonprofits would apply for funding, Smith added.
Finally, after less than 10 minutes of discussion, Chair Ron Cutsinger announced that, by consensus, the board members wanted the advertising for the open seat to continue.