Tuesday, June 25, 2024

New Hanover Community Endowment announces resignation of president and CEO

New Hanover Community Endowment CEO William Buster (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

WILMINGTON — After crossing the two-year mark overseeing endowment funds from the hospital sale to Novant, William Buster has resigned from his post at the New Hanover Community Endowment.

READ MORE: NHC forgoes reappointing 2 standing endowment members for former commissioners

The endowment sent a press release announcing the president and CEO’s resignation, though did not state why. PCD reached out to NHCE director of communications Kevin Maurer and to Chair Bill Cameron to ask for more details about Buster’s resignation. Maurer responded it was a personnel issue and would not comment further.

The board of directors appointed executive vice president Lakesha McDay to fulfill the duties while the search is underway for a new CEO.

The NHCE manages $1.25 billion in proceeds from the $1.5 billion sale of the county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health in 2020. The endowment aims to address root challenges in county issues, including education, safety, equity, and development through distribution of grants.

In 2022, the endowment gave out $9 million to 110 nonprofits and in December 2023 announced $53 million for 33 nonprofits. Buster said the goal was to disburse money more than once a year for area needs, including affordable housing — slated to be addressed in 2024.

“William helped lead the endowment through two rounds of community impact investments that led to $34 million in direct contributions to more than 140 nonprofits within our community and the commitment for an additional $20 million in funds that will be dispersed into New Hanover County beyond 2024,” NHCE board chair Bill Cameron said in the release.

Buster came from Asheville’s Dogwood Health Trust, where he served as senior vice president of impact. He was tapped to lead NHCE due to his familiarity with overseeing a large pot of money and investing strategies; Dogwood’s $1.5-billion trust formed out of the Asheville Mission Health-HCA Healthcare deal in 2019.

“It has been a privilege to help take this organization from a vision of the board to a functioning organization poised to create change,” Buster said in the release. “I have been honored to work alongside this community and team in doing so. I believe the work I led set the foundation for significant change within New Hanover County. I am proud of the path we set and look forward to seeing the endowment fulfill its promise to the community.”

His exit comes as the endowment has had a shift in board members as well in the last year. Cameron took over as chair from Spence Broadhurst last January; by fall, two new members were serving on the 13-member board.

Commissioners appoint five members, six are voted in by Novant Health and two are appointed by the endowment board.

Despite Cameron sending a letter to commissioners last fall to reappoint founding members Hannah Dawson Gage and Virginia Adams, whose service began in 2020, instead they voted to bring on former county leadership. Pat Kusek and Woody White took over, both of whom were former commissioners that voted to sell the hospital and start the endowment.

In the fall, commissioner Dane Scalise said putting White and Kusek on the board would ensure the endowment’s strategic plan aligns with the county’s. Fellow commissioner LeAnn Pierce voted in favor to bring in fresh ideas to the board and stated residents had reached out asking for change on the endowment. Chairman Rivenbark agreed with new faces taking position on the board.

Zapple and Barfield were against the move. The former believed it would politicize the board, while the latter was against letting go of one of its diverse members, Adams, also formerly appointed by commissioners.

“The conversation right now would be to remove the one person of color that we put there,” Barfield said last fall. “My question to commissioners is: What message are we sending to New Hanover County as a whole when we remove any diversity of our appointments at all?”

Attorney General Josh Stein, reviewing the hospital transaction in 2020, required the endowment to have someone from the African-American and Hispanic communities serving.

Novant appointed Cedric Dickerson in December 2020, who has been reappointed until December 2025. The endowment appointed Khadijia Tribié Reid in February 2021 and her term expires December 2024. 

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