Saturday, April 13, 2024

NHC Endowment board member resigns one month after CEO exits

Patricia Kusek resigned from the endowment board, only six months after being appointed. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Though it’s only March, the New Hanover Community Endowment already has endured a shakeup of a year.

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

Last month, William Buster exited from the endowment after serving two years as its inaugural CEO. Friday, the endowment announced newly appointed member Patricia Kusek resigned from the 13-member board.

“We thank Patricia for her work on our first strategic grant cycle and wish her well going forward,” Bill Cameron, chairman of the NHCE board, said in a press release.

Kusek was appointed by New Hanover County commissioners last fall and did not respond to questions Port City Daily put forth, including her reasoning for resigning only six months after being appointed. A spokesperson for the endowment said she did not state why in her resignation letter.

Kusek’s term was set to expire Sept. 20, 2026.

The county commissioners will consider who will replace Kusek at its April 15 board meeting; New Hanover County said the board replacement will be advertised Monday, March 4.

The county was informed of Kusek’s resignation on Thursday evening at 7:30 in a brief email:

“I am stepping down from my Board appointment effective March 1, 2024. Please pass along to commissioners. Thank you.”

A former Republican commissioner, Kusek also was one of three commissioners — including Woody White, Jonathan Barfield and Julia Olson-Boseman — who voted on the $1.5-billion sale of the county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health in 2020. $1.25 billion of its proceeds were put toward creating the endowment, to help fund county issues in education, safety, equity, and development through the distribution of grants to area organizations and nonprofits.

In its first year, the New Hanover Community Endowment doled out $9 million to 110 nonprofits and at the end of 2023, $53 million was given to upward of 33 nonprofits; 19 were multi-year strategic grants and 14 act as responsive grants, meaning one-year only and nonrenewable. Kusek helped oversee the disbursement of the last pot of money.

The endowment board consists of five members appointed by New Hanover County commissioners, six voted in by Novant Health and two appointed by the endowment board. During her tenure as commissioner, Kusek was against only the county commissioners voting on who would fill the endowment board — something a majority were pushing for at the time.

“Make note of the politics involved in each and every appointment. Watch out how and where future Commissioners spend your money. And, as the dollars get carved up for political purposes, you won’t have to wonder how in the name of heaven it all happened,” she wrote in a 2020 StarNews opinion piece.

In addition to Kusek’s appointment last September, former Republican commissioner White was selected to serve on the endowment board in a 3-2 vote; Jonathan Barfield and Rob Zapple dissented. Even endowment chair Cameron asked commissioners to re-up then board members Hannah Dawson Gage and Virginia Adams — the latter of whom was the only diverse member the county appointed.

“My main concern is I didn’t feel the current board, who has been working for three years and building the endowment from scratch, has been given the fair chance to show what it is they have been doing,” Zapple told PCD last fall of his preference to stick with Gage and Adams.

Other commissioners thought enough time had elapsed since the endowment founding for new faces and fresh ideas. Commissioner Dane Scalise said putting White and Kusek on the board would ensure the endowment’s strategic plan aligns with the county’s.

Barfield took issue that commissioners did not appoint anyone diverse during its vote to approve Kusek and White — both Caucasian.

Upon reviewing the transaction from the hospital sale, Attorney Josh Stein had requested the endowment board’s expansion to include more diverse members, including from the Hispanic and African-American communities.

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. 

“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?”

Port City Daily reached out to the commissioners to ask for their insights on the resignation of Kusek. No one responded by press but this will be updated should anyone choose to give a statement.

The endowment did not have any updates on how its search for its next executive director is going thus far. PCD also asked Kusek her thoughts on Buster’s resignation, if the endowment was working in a way the commissioners had envisioned when they agreed to sell the hospital, and what improvements should be made, if any.

This will be updated should she respond.

Lakesha McDay has stepped in as a search for the endowment’s next CEO continues.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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