ROCK ISLAND — The Hope Creek Care Center advisory board came one step closer to being dissolved Monday.
In front of a standing-room-only crowd, county governance, health and administration committee members approved advancing a vote to the county board committee of the whole meeting Wednesday to dissolve the advisory board.
Rock Island County board chairman Richard Brunk suspended the board Feb. 5 following the resignations of advisory board chair Jessey Hullon and board member Carol Near in January.
Hullon and Near stepped down after questioning the board's purpose and criticizing county board members for not keeping advisory board members better informed about the finances of the county-owned nursing home.
Hullon had asked for the board to be dissolved during the Jan. 14 meeting, saying that without decision-making powers, the advisory board serves no purpose.
"I want to make clear that (dissolution) is not only my recommendation, but also the recommendation of County Administrator Jim Snider," Brunk said. "I believe initially, there was some good that came out of the advisory board.
"Unfortunately, it's taken a turn where there are serious questions about what the purpose of the board is and ... I'm trying to be careful about how I word things," Brunk said after a long pause. "There hasn't been a whole lot of productivity and positive that has come in recent times. Most of it has been negative. I will say that one of my priorities as chairman is to ensure the long-term stability of Hope Creek."
The seven-member volunteer advisory board was created as a governing body in May 2015. It was stripped of its powers in May 2016 and turned into an advisory board.
County board members never filled the vacancy left by Ginny Shelton. Shelton was the Democratic representative from the county board.
The remaining four members are Republican county board member Rod Simmer and residents Tim Erno, John Corelis and Michael Kelly.
Hope Creek is currently $4.6 million in debt, according to recent reports by county auditor April Palmer and county treasurer Louisa Ewert.
Board members last month approved hiring Management Performance Associates (MPA) of St. Louis to conduct a three-month cost benefit analysis of Hope Creek at a cost of $29,000.
The overview will begin at the end of February and conclude at the end of May.
Committee member Patrick Moreno assigned blame to the advisory board, saying it was their responsibility to keep county board members informed, not the other way around.
He supported dissolving the advisory board.
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"This is a critical, critical time for Hope Creek, I think we can all agree on that," Moreno said. "If the county board is going to make a responsible decision about Hope Creek, we need to have that information weekly. Since we had that (advisory) board, we have not gotten that information at this committee."
"My take on this is that we are the elected officials," committee chairman Brian Vyncke said. "We are the ones — whatever decision comes out of this study — but I welcome any input from anyone. I don't get the feeling that anyone wants to get rid of Hope Creek. I think we're trying to do everything we possibly can to find a different direction — anything that can bring in money to keep Hope Creek alive."
Vyncke is back on the governance, health and administration committee after being on the finance committee for two years. Vyncke said it would be better for the GHA committee to receive information about Hope Creek directly.
"Nothing against the advisory board, but when I was on this committee, we used to get direct reports from (accountant) Bill Gabelmann at the time, we had all the information at the committee," Vyncke said. "We had that information. But when I got back on this committee, I felt like there was a disconnect.
"I started attending Hope Creek (advisory board) meetings so I could know what was going on," Vyncke said. "The only way you can get information is by attending the meetings."
Gabelmann, of Honkamp Krueger, delivered a financial report to committee members, telling them Hope Creek owed $835,700 to vendors at the end of January.
"These numbers you're giving us, did the Hope Creek advisory board also get these numbers?" Moreno said.
"Yes," Gabelmann said.
"So, the advisory board was given these numbers every single month?" Moreno said.
Committee member Mia Mayberry agreed with the assessment that the Hope Creek advisory board did not inform the county board or governance, health and administration committee members.
"I have to agree with (Vyncke) and Mr. Moreno," Mayberry said. "In the time we've had the advisory board, we on the GHA committee have not gotten the information that we needed from Gabelmann or from the director of Hope Creek. We are the ones with the fiduciary responsibility over Hope Creek. I think it's time we start getting that information."
Vyncke said the decision to disband the advisory board was "nothing personal.
"I greatly appreciate all the work they've done," Vyncke said. "They are volunteers; they don't get one dime for the time they put in. They did bring value to what they did. We are still board members; we have an ear. You can still call us, email us, talk to us. We need all hands on board.
"We don't need more friction," Vyncke said. "The last think Hope Creek needs is more weight around its ankles."
The county board committee of the whole meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the county office building, 1504 Third Ave.