The Times West Virginian

June 13, 2013

Following court decision, let’s move on, see FGH ‘grow and thrive’

Times West Virginian

— We don’t think anyone would argue the point that our community and its leaders need to be forward-thinking, forward-moving and focused on the bricks that will pave the pathway to the future.

Sometimes there’s a disagreement about that future. And sometimes those disagreements have to be settled.

Sometimes it takes the decision of a high court to settle a dispute. But with decision in hand, we believe it is in the best interest for everyone to move on and to move forward.

And we believe that will be the case with the recent decision by the state Supreme Court that ends a nearly three­-year legal battle between the City of Fairmont and Fairmont General Hospital. The decision filed last week holds that FGH has the right to appoint its own board members.

The high court’s ruling upholds a decision made by Marion County Circuit Court Judge David Janes in November 2011, who ruled that the hospital could appoint its own members and that the city’s charter no longer applies to the hospital. The City of Fairmont appealed that deci­sion in February 2012, asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Since 2010, the city and FGH have been embroiled in a battle for appointments — FGH want­ed the right to appoint its own board of directors, while the city believed it held that right to not only appoint the board members, but to have two members of city council sit on the board.

Since then, there have been dual appointments — the hospital board and the city council both naming members to the board, injunctions filed, mediation, court decisions and appeals.

Janes and the Supreme Court held that because FGH is no longer a “municipal hospital” — the city hasn’t controlled day-to-day operations since 1985 — that the Fairmont City Charter does not apply and that council lacked any standing to challenge the board changing its bylaws, amending its articles of incorporation or appointing its own members.

But we don’t believe this is a rift that will never be resolved. We believe that FGH’s board was trying to move the hospital forward in a new direction, and we believe the city wanted to protect the best interests of its residents and members of the community at large who depend on the services at FGH.

“At the end of the day, we support Fairmont General and, as the City of Fairmont, we want Fairmont General to grow and thrive in this community for years to come,” City Manager Jay Rogers told the Times West Virginian last week. “What we just went through was just a difference of opinion on that particular issue.”

And sometimes a difference of opinion requires another set of eyes to weigh the law and interpret how it should be applied.

Robert C. Marquardt, president and CEO of Fairmont General Hospital, said the board has been operating as if it had the authority since the beginning of 2011, so the court’s decision will not have an immediate affect on day-to-day operations. In the future, he said the most obvious impact is that the Supreme Court’s decision removes the potential barrier to recruit other board members. There are currently nine members, but FGH’s bylaws allow for up to 17 members on the hospital board.

“Now we can convene and deliberate and start discussions on potential other board members and how they might be attracted,” Marquardt said. “We didn’t expect to get a ruling from the Supreme Court until September. We’re surprised how rapidly this came about.”

We’re certainly glad for a speedy decision as well. Decision in hand, the city has resolution and the hospital can move forward as it seeks a strategic partnership or other solution to ensure its presence in our community for many more years to come.