SNOW HILL – A vote to provide funding to Atlantic General Hospital is the subject of an ethics complaint submitted to Worcester County.
Snow Hill resident Marvin Purnell submitted a complaint to Worcester County regarding Commissioner Josh Nordstrom’s participation in a Worcester County Commissioners’ vote to provide funding to the hospital when his wife works there. Purnell said it was a “blatant disregard of ethical integrity.”
“It’s a ‘conflict of interest’ when a Worcester County commissioner is allowed to influence, sway, advocate, sponsor and vote to fund monies to a specific entity if and when there is a personal interest and/or gain,” Purnell wrote.
Nordstrom, however, stands by his vote.
“I voted to fund the hospital during a global pandemic,” he said. “I’d do it again today.”
Purnell wrote to the county after Nordstrom on June 2 made a motion to provide Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) with $100,000. The motion passed with a 4-3 vote. Purnell believes Nordstrom should have recused himself.
“That result would have fairly concluded a different outcome,” Purnell wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like business as usual and this kind of bias influence should not be allowed. Being transparent in all that you do should be first on your agendas. It would show that the people in Worcester County can trust our government officials to do what is right. Integrity should be a top priority.”
Nordstrom stressed that his vote was based on supporting the hospital and was not influenced by the fact that his wife works there.
“We have to look at the bigger picture here and understand how important it is to fund our hospital in the middle of a pandemic,” he said, adding that no one present at the meeting suggested he recuse himself from voting.
Nordstrom added that his wife was a director (of community health) at AGH.
“She would not lose her job if they were to cut people because of lack of funding,” he said.
Nordstrom said Purnell, who he did not know personally, had not reached out to him regarding the vote.
“This person has never contacted me,” he said. “They were not concerned enough to confront me personally.”
Purnell, a longtime Worcester County resident, said in an interview Tuesday he submitted the complaint because the AGH vote was just the most recent issue that worried him at the county government level. He expressed frustration about wastes of resources and hiring practices.
“This has got to cease,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of seeing this foolishness.”
He maintains that Nordstrom should not have voted, particularly after the commissioner pointed out his wife worked at AGH during the discussion.
“Full disclosure my wife is community health director for Atlantic General Hospital,” Nordstrom said during the June 2 discussion. “I want everyone to know that right now it could be a conflict of interest for me but I feel strong enough about it that I want to speak on this hospital.”
Purnell said that while he received a brief reply from the county attorney after submitting his complaint earlier this month, he’s still waiting for a formal response from the county. He thinks this is an issue for the ethics board to review.
“There’s got to be accountability,” he said, adding that county officials ought to put more importance on ethics and transparency.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, president of the board, said that he didn’t believe there had been any violation of ethics with Nordstrom’s vote. He said that whether Nordstrom’s wife worked at AGH or not he would not have a financial gain from the county grant.
He added that there would always be situations where commissioners would have to consider whether they should participate in a certain vote.
“There’s a fine line we all walk sometime,” he said.
When asked if the Worcester County Ethics Board would be reviewing Purnell’s complaint, Public Information Officer Kim Moses said the board’s proceedings were confidential.
“The county is looking into the complaint,” she said. “Note that by county resolution all proceedings of the ethics board are confidential.”