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Communication issues prompt letter of support to mental health chair

The Record-Eagle - 9/8/2022

Sep. 8—TRAVERSE CITY — The Grand Traverse County Commission will send a letter of support to the chairman of the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority board, saying there's no shame in stepping down from the post.

Dan DeKorse, who represents Grand Traverse County on the Northern Lakes board, was named chairman in June. But ongoing issues between Northern Lakes and the county board are causing anxiety among other Northern Lake board members, said Commissioner Penny Morris, who wrote the letter that was unanimously approved by commissioners on Wednesday.

Several members came to her with concerns about the lack of communication from DeKorse after he failed to disseminate materials to the board, Morris said.

One of those was a letter from Eric Kurtz, CEO of Northern Michigan Regional Entity, that outlined that NMRE would appoint an interim CEO for Northern Lakes because of the turmoil surrounding the appointments and rescission of the post to Joanie Blamer, who has been interim CEO for more than a year.

Kurtz wrote that NMRE also would oversee the search for a new CEO and that no Northern Lakes employees would participate in the search.

The letter to DeKorse states that if he wants to step down as chairman there is no shame in that, and the GTC board will support him in whatever decision he makes.

DeKorse was at Wednesday's regular board meeting. He said he knew nothing about the letter until he heard Morris read it aloud at the meeting for other commissioners.

"I was surprised by it, but also appreciative," DeKorse said, adding that he attended the meeting to hear any discussion about Northern Lakes if it came up.

He said he asked to be on the board because he wanted to focus on services. The turmoil going on is a different focus than what he signed up for, he said.

"My approach to communication is that there are things that should be addressed at board meetings and we shouldn't be emailing back and forth," as it could be a violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, DeKorse said.

The OMA states that any deliberations by a board must be made at a meeting open to the public and that other forms of communication can be considered "consensus-building," which also is not allowed.

Commissioner Bryce Hundley supported the letter, saying, "This whole thing has been extraordinarily challenging."

In the past several months, the Grand Traverse County board voted to leave Northern Lakes and form its own organization or pair with Leelanau County for mental health services. The move would dissolve the authority, which also consists of Crawford, Leelanau, Missaukee, Roscommon and Wexford counties.

The county board also recently removed two of the six Northern Lakes board members for neglecting their duties when they voted to support Blamer in her bid for CEO.

Two new members were appointed who both voted at their first meeting to rescind the CEO offer to Blamer.

Leelanau County board members recently voted unanimously that services offered by Northern Lakes are not up to par.

County Administrator Nate Alger said representatives from the six counties are meeting once a month. They are also in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding that they agree to work on updating or rewriting an Enabling Agreement that established Northern Lakes in 2003. The agreement has not been amended since then.

Leelanau and Crawford counties have signed the memorandum so far.

Hundley said he gets a sense in the community that the four other counties could pull the trigger and form their own authority. Grand Traverse County consistently has a deficit in Medicaid funding for services, while the other five counties have a surplus.

"There's a sense that they are carrying Grand Traverse County," Hundley said.

The county pays $682,000 per year — more than the other counties combined — for services not covered by Medicaid.

Commission Chair Rob Hentschel reiterated what he has said in the past — that saving money is not the goal. Better services are.


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