by Jim Boyle
Central Minnesota Mental Health Center is changing the way it does business, and members of the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners signed off in support of the move at their Aug. 22 meeting.
The nonprofit corporation was formed in 1963 by Stearns, Benton, Sherburne and Wright counties to bring mental health services to the region.
Counties have provided the delegates to serve as members of the organization’s foundation as spelled out in its original bylaws.
Over the years, however, funding for these services has become less reliant upon subsidies from members of the foundation and more reliant on fees for service, and in 2014 the CMMHS Board began contemplating whether that original governance structure was the optimal choice.
CMMHS Foundation members, through their delegates, and the entire CMMHS Board have concluded it is not and have agreed that it is time to change the structure from one that is controlled by the foundation to a more traditional, private non-profit structure.
The process will move forward once all four counties have passed a resolution in support.
Sherburne County Commissioner Felix Schmiesing, who has served on the board for 14 years, said it is best for counties to get out of the way.
“We’ll continue to have a voice,” Schmiesing said, “but the governance and purchasing services, that inherently created a conflict.
“This cleans it up and puts it in the hands of the community.”
The current board has five county commissioners on it, and they have been working in this direction for years.
In January 2016 the CMMHC Board adopted a strategic plan which had among its goals to create a Board Governance Task Force charged with determining what an optimal board structure would look like.
One month later, Rickard G. Lee, the organization’s executive director, was tasked with shepherding a task force on the matter.
After multiple meetings spanning more than a year, including review by the county attorneys, human services directors and administrators, the CMMHC Board unanimously passed a resolution this summer to adopt new amended articles of incorporation and bylaws.
County boards involved must now adopt a similar resolution if CMMHC is to proceed with re-structuring its board governance.
For a many years, CMMHC’s four counties provided it a significant annual “operational subsidy” (as much as $1 million per year, collectively).
“In the past few years, the financial relationship has changed more to one of “purchase of service” contracts, with a significant reduction of the collective “operational subsidy” to $100,000 (representing less than .5 percent of a $22 million budget for 2017).
Lee told the Sherburne County Board there are some community mental health centers across outstate Minnesota which retain significant “operational subsidies” from counties and which have majority county commissioner boards.
Other centers, he said, have no “operational subsidy” and more traditional 501(c)(3) boards.
“Regardless of governance structure, all community mental health centers maintain strong relationships with counties,” Lee said. “After all, the identity and mission of community mental health squares with the charge of human services agencies: serving the community and some of its most vulnerable citizens, and we both represent significant strands of the safety net.”
None of that will change with a change in governance structure.
“I think CMMHC’s future health depends on counties viewing us as indispensable to the accomplishment of their goals.”