Clean Sweep in Hospital Elections

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY –  Interest was high in the elections held Saturday, May 4, with over 17% of eligible voters casting ballots. While that may not seem like many, most city, school and county hospital election turnout numbers pale in comparison. There were many contested races in the city of Crockett and Crockett School District races, leading voters to come out and cast a ballot. One major draw, both in Crockett and in the rest of the county, were the four races for the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) open positions. 

Some voters were confused over the candidates teaming up into two slates. Residents on social media asked if this was by party affiliation or some other link. Both sides posted many signs, all saying they would work to keep the hospital open. Both sides were funded by different interests in the county, with advertising designed to promote the group and not individual candidates, which is usually the case. 

Local elections are non-partisan and The Messenger cannot say what national party affiliation any of the candidates may, or may not have. The two groups represented the feuding sides in the HCHD meetings and on the board, itself, although during the campaign, the specific differences between the two groups may not have been made totally clear to voters. 

In the end, the camps did not quite create the block voting they had wished for, with some candidates doing better and some receiving more or fewer votes. One side did prevail and in a major way, reshaping the hospital board for the next year. 

On the one side, Incumbents Rhonda Brown, Dina Pipes and challengers Joe “Buddy” Clonts and Randy Currie pit themselves against Incumbent Roy Langford and newcomers Monica Glover Pierre, Robert Grier and Jarvis McElhany. 

With tensions often high during the board meetings and at times, contentious with the hospital administration, there were some clear differences between the candidates one on one, if not always as a group. 

Time will tell what the new board members will do as they take their places after the election results are officially canvassed. All candidates expressed a wish for relations between the two sides to improve, with one side hoping for a tax increase to offer new services at the hospital and the other side promising there are enough funds, with no increase needed. 

In broad terms, voting in more rural and isolated areas of the county tended to go more for Brown-Pipes-Currie-Clonts, with cities tending to vote more for the other side. It cannot be said what effect the high turnout for Crockett city and school elections had on the outcome, but it no doubt played a role. Roughly 1,700 people voted in the various hospital races – a 17% turnout – high, considering there was no governor or President on the ballot to motivate voters. Early and absentee voting represented a large percentage of the total voters. 

In place two, Clonts and Pierre ran to replace retiring Board Member Pam Ainsworth. Clonts ran last year against HCHD Board President Barbara Crowson and Pierre’s name was considered several times to replace a previous board member, although consensus from the board was never achieved and Roy Langford took the spot. Clonts received 633 votes (35.54%) to Pierre’s 1,148. (64.46%) 

In HCHD place four, Incumbent Langford had a similar, if slightly smaller margin, winning with 1,025 votes, (58.27%) to Currie’s 734. (41.73%)

Place six was a hotly contested place between Incumbent Brown and challenger Grier. Both hold opposite views on the board’s purpose and activities and Grier is a former board president, who regularly attends the meetings and participates in the public comments. Brown could not hold on, garnering 776 votes, (44.62%) with Grier winning with 963. (55.38%)

Another upset was in place eight, with Incumbent Pipes losing to McElhany, who works as a local emergency medical technician. (EMT) Pipes, along with Brown, had been the undeclared leaders of their faction, arguing for lower taxes and more transparency from the board and the hospital administration. McEhany was able to win decisively, with 58.26% of the vote, (1,016) versus Pipes with 41.74%. (728)

The confusion over the creation of the voting blocks may have had some effect, too, along with many candidates – most publicly McElhany – promising better relations between board members if he were elected. This seismic change on the board is important, as current hospital operator Mid-Coast Medical’s own CEO Brett Kirkham recently told the media, “We’re appreciative of the support we get, but if we’re not wanted here, we can spend our time and efforts in other communities. It’s a sad thing, but that’s the reality.”

HCHD has set a meeting for Tuesday, May 15 at 5:30 p.m., to canvass the election, before the new members can be seated. 

Whether it was concern over losing the current hospital, backlash over turmoil in the meetings or a larger-than-expected turnout in Crockett – the voters were clear and The Messenger will continue to update from the upcoming HCHD board meetings.

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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