As many of you were, I was saddened and somewhat angered by the news of Shawn Whatley’s resignation from the OMA Board today. Saddened because he has given so many of us an insight into the workings of our Association and a perspective from someone who has not only worked within the organization but who also sees where it can improve and change for the better. His blog and other writing is what has inspired many new physician leaders, including me, to get involved in shaping the future of the OMA.
I am angered as well, however. With Shawn’s resignation, many members have lost what they see as their voice on the Board. Board members, once elected, serve the members of the association as a whole, not their own particular constituency. This means that appealing to my District Directors has little impact if they feel that my opinions of views do not reflect the membership’s needs or wishes. The problem is that the Board of Directors has so infrequently asked for my advice as a member or indeed as a delegate, that I have no confidence in their ability to know that their actions work for the good of the membership. The most obvious example of this was the TPSA and the admitted failure of the Board to consider that membership might reject it.
But I do not want to dwell on the past. The present and the future are of much greater concern. Members who have followed Shawn’s blog and writings know pretty much where he stands. They also have the ability to have a two-way, open and public conversation with him through commenting on his blog. Shawn always responded to every comment, something that I have always felt was an exceptionally effective way to build on the conversations. In contrast to Shawn’s communications, the communication from the Board is limited to the carefully worded and parsed emails from the President that rarely give any insight into the thinking and discussion at the Board, and simply lay out the path that the Board has decided to take on any issue. The other communication conduits have been Town Halls, both electronic and in-person. I have yet to hear anyone comment that they were satisfied with these experiences, as these generally are non-candid affairs meant to verbalize pre-prepared speaking points.
So I am angry that the distance between members and the Board seems to be growing, not shrinking. Even though I am involved on my section executive and on the Governance Committee, I have witnessed the Board’s apparently insatiable need to be in control of everything. Health City Kingston needed to be examined with a fine-tooth comb to root out any unsanctioned advocacy. Rallies and Town Halls attended by members were labelled as partisan despite invitations to all political parties. Member communications have been held up until they became irrelevant. Even the Governance Committee’s plans to develop a plan to examine and reform the structure of the Board Executive, while completely within the scope of this committee, has to be “sold” to the Board before proceeding to inform members of this initiative and get member input.
I keep coming back to the question – Why did Shawn Whatley resign? Why now? Looking back, it is clear that Shawn (and others?) was likely not in favour of submitting the TPSA to members. Did he resign then? No. He didn’t resign when the Board hired Navigator to sell the TPSA to members. He didn’t resign when Navigator’s tactics bordering on harassment took place. He didn’t resign when the Board was admonished by Justice Perell prior to the GMM. He didn’t resign when the Executive did not step aside in the wake of the TPSA vote. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to sit through all of these decisions, knowing that they were the wrong decisions, knowing that they were damaging the Association and the relationship with members, and still hanging on so he could do what little he could to represent members. So Shawn has resigned now, and there is no obvious reason that we know of that this happened. However, we can be safe to assume that either he could no longer stomach going along with whatever plan was now being agreed to at the Board, or worse, that whatever it is that the Board has decided to do, it is worse than the TPSA, worse than Navigator, worse than legal antics, worse than ignoring a 2/3 vote against an agreement that the Exec continued to defend even after the GMM, and continuing to consider that they had a mandate to represent members.
What happened? What is it that the Board has approved that Shawn could not even hold his nose and accept? I think members need to know. I think members have a right to know. And with that knowledge, I think members have a right to decide if the Board is truly acting in their best interest. I can only assume that Shawn provided the Board with a letter of resignation. If the Board feels truly blameless in his decision to resign, they should release his letter of resignation, with his consent, so that members can decide for themselves whether Shawn’s resignation reflects merely a personal decision that enough was enough, or if there are even more concerns of which members have a right to be aware.
Much attention lately has been focused on the Executive. In my opinion, however, assessing the Executive’s fitness to serve is not enough. Members, through Council, have a right to assess the ability of any Board member to continue to serve in the membership’s best interests. Council has a right to hear what the issues were that lead to Dr. Whatley’s resignation. If things have become severely dysfunctional and the Board’s business has been distracted by such a degree that a Director had to resign, then the Board’s fitness to serve members has to be brought into question.
With all due respect to the Coalition, the Executive doesn’t appear to be the whole problem. Today’s events shine a new light on that suggestion. The problems with the OMA governing bodies seem to go deeper. While a GMM may consider the motions brought forward by the Coalition, I fear that the real work needs to be done by Council, which has the authority and responsibility to remove any Board Members who are not performing their duties adequately.
I call on the OMA Board to address the reasons for Dr. Whatley’s resignation, release his letter of resignation and allow members to fully understand the events leading to this. Without this clarity, we can only assume that something egregious was about to happen or has happened. Without this clarity, the members will have no idea if we should still have hope and trust that the Board can fulfill it’s duty to members. In either of these cases, motions for removal of every remaining Board member would be in order, with notice of same being given as per OMA Bylaw 10:5:4:
“The Council may, by a resolution passed by at least two-thirds of the votes cast at a meeting of the Council of which notice specifying the intention to pass such resolution has been given, remove any director or officer from office before the expiration of his or her term.”
There is no precedent for mass removal of Board Directors. One suggestion would be to appoint an interim Board made up of representative of the District Executives or members they nominate. This would be a caretaking enterprise until new elections to the Board can be held. Let’s face it: the government would be foolish to negotiate with our current leadership, who have shown themselves to be so out of touch with members. And members would be foolish to trust this group to present an adequate TPSA for ratification.
If there are Board members who feel that there is an alternative path to a positive outcome, I would be interested in hearing about it. Silence on this issue now will only ensure that a debate at Council will have the last word. For the good of the Association, for the good of members, for the good of our patients and our ability to contribute to shaping the health care system moving forward, we must have this discussion.
Is it time to clean house and move forward? I guess that depends.