The Southern Coos Health District Board of directors voted 3-2 Thursday night to terminate Southern Coos Hospital CEO Jim Wathen's contract, effective July 31.
Just last month, the board voted to extend the CEO's contract for one year.
Board member Esther Williams made the motion to terminate Wathen's contract "not for cause but for the convenience of the district," following an executive session at the hospital's regular board meeting.
Marilyn Noorda seconded the motion. Williams, Noorda and Board Chairman Bob Hundhausen voted in favor and board members David Allen and Brian Vick voted against.
Wathen, who has been the hospital's CEO for 17 years, made no comment after the vote, but Allen expressed his concerns about the timing of the action as well as the cost to the district, which he estimated would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.
Jay Straley, an employee at Southern Coos Hospital, called the termination a "witch hunt," and said he thought Wathen has done an impressive job as CEO. The then crossed the room and shook Wathen's hand.
Resident Jim Giambrone Jr., who has been vocal at both board meetings and in the community about wanting Wathen's contract terminated, thanked the board for its action and offered his support to help with the transition.
Hundhausen said he has spoken with former Chief Financial Officer Alan Dow, and he has agreed to serve in the interim while the district searches for a new administrator. The board did not make a motion regarding hiring Dow as interim CEO.
Last month, the board voted 2-2 to extend Wathen's contract for one year, with Allen and Vick in favor and Williams and Hundhausen abstaining. Noorda was out of town. There was some controversy after that meeting about whether the vote should have carried the motion. Thursday, Hundhausen said the board's lawyer, Jim Coffey, was still investigating the legality of the June meeting's vote.
Wathen's contract states that upon termination by the board, he will continue to receive his salary for one year, every other week, as he previously did, in addition to health benefits and retirement. He will not be paid a lump sum. Wathen's yearly salary is approximately $152,000.
Read the complete story in next week's Bandon Western World.