Originally created 02/20/03

Mental health center meeting splits board



A canceled meeting at an embattled mental health center Wednesday revealed a serious rift in the center's governing board.

Dr. Nancy Williamson, the chairwoman of the Community Service Board of the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia, canceled a 6 p.m. called meeting earlier Wednesday, but a faction of the board attempted to meet anyway.

The move failed when only three members of the 11-member board showed up - Dr. John Cheatham, Gloria Frazier and Steve Smith. The board's attorney, Paul David, and John West, the attorney board members hired last month to represent them in an investigation of center operations, also attended.

A quorum of six members is required to hold an official meeting.

Dr. Cheatham said Dr. Williamson tried to prevent him and other members from meeting by placing a security guard at one door of the meeting room and locking the other to keep them from entering. They went in anyway.

"She can't lock us out," Dr. Cheatham said. "She's lost her mind."

Dr. Williamson said she didn't order security to go to the board room.

"I told security to let anybody meet that wanted to," she said. "People have a right to meet. They just can't have an official meeting."

As for Dr. Cheatham's comment about her mental state, Dr. Williamson said, "I'll let you be the judge of that."

Dr. Cheatham said his faction did not plan to discuss the ongoing investigations at the center if they had had a quorum.

Center operations are being investigated by the Georgia Department of Human Resources' Office of Investigative Services and Office of Audits; the State Health Care Fraud Control Unit, which includes elements of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; and the state attorney general's office.

A whistle-blower's lawsuit filed Tuesday by employee Sharon Haire states that the center also is being investigated by the FBI.

Mrs. Haire, one of the center's top administrators, wrote an anonymous letter to Dr. Williamson and two other board members in January, alleging corruption and cronyism at the facility. Ten days later, the board hired Mr. West, launched an investigation and placed the center's executive director, Mike Brockman, and its administrator, Jim Points, on paid leave.

Mrs. Haire was notified Tuesday by acting Director Philip Horton that she would be fired Friday. Grounds for the firing was her admission that she gave an employee an untrue evaluation.

Wednesday's meeting was supposed to be for the purpose of discussing Mrs. Haire's status, but after she was fired, the issue had been settled.

Dr. Cheatham and Ms. Frazier said they would call for another special meeting before Tuesday's regular meeting.

"We have some very severe problems that need to be straightened out," he said.

Dr. Cheatham, an avid supporter of Mr. Brockman and Mr. Points, said he is ready to go public with what is going on at the center, but said the board's attorney, Mr. David, has advised him to hold off.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.