Bluegrass mental health agency's leadership culture too cozy for comfort

Generous compensation could be appropriate for executives who provide a good service and manage the bottom line effectively. In that regard, the salaries of top executives at the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board reported in Sunday's Herald-Leader weren't too disturbing.

What was bothersome in reporter John Cheves' stories about the non-profit that contracts with the state to provide mental health services in Central Kentucky is the clubby glow emanating from the inner circle.

■ The current CEO, Shannon Ware, is now married to the former CEO, Joseph Toy, for whom she worked for years. The former CEO is now retired but works as a consultant for the organization.

■ The son-in-law of the former CEO, also works there.

■ The newest members of the board came on four years ago, in 2008, while at least eight of the 25 members have served since the 1980s and three others since the '90s.

■ Bluegrass has spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying the legislature to avoid bidding competitively for some of the work it does for the state.

Collectively, these offer the potential for an organization where the status quo is rarely challenged.

The nepotism and long-term board membership are particularly troubling. As CEO, Ware is ultimately responsible for supervising both her husband, former CEO Toy, now a paid consultant, and his son-in-law, Eric Crabtree, director of information technology. While it is theoretically possible that a supervisor might treat a family member exactly the same as an unrelated employee, in reality it is hard to imagine. Regardless, the very appearance of favoritism can be damaging to an organization.

Likewise, the protestations by board chairman Scott Gould that it's inappropriate to discuss the relationship between Ware and Toy just don't make sense. Perhaps everything is above-board but it is not only appropriate to thoroughly vet the situation, it's the only way to maintain the credibility of the organization.

And that brings us to the board. When board members hold their seats for three decades they are very likely to have developed personal relationships with each other and with top management that make it hard to raise uncomfortable questions, or to listen when questions arise from farther down in the ranks or outside sources.

By almost all accounts Bluegrass serves some of the most vulnerable Kentuckians well. It should not endanger that record by tolerating a cozy culture of insiders.

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