Florida’s Blood Centers needs to clean house

The fate of Florida's Blood Centers President and CEO Anne Chinoda could be decided this week when the center's board of directors is scheduled to meet to potentially discuss a separation package for her.

It's clear Chinoda's exit is one step that needs to occur before the blood centers can make a fresh start and begin to restore faith among blood donors and the community.

But that's not all that needs to happen.

On Friday, Richard Costales, senior vice president of resort operations at Universal Orlando, did the right thing by resigning from the FBC board, where he served on the executive committee.

Longtime board Chairman Leighton Yates, a partner at Holland & Knight, and the other remaining executive committee member George Tomyn, executive director for school development and evaluation at Marion County schools, should leave the board immediately as well.

Yates has said he will leave the board in April because of new term limits adopted by the organization.

But it's foolish to think that FBC can begin to rehabilitate its image with Yates and Tomyn calling the shots for even a brief period longer.

It's the executive committee that has been integral in the management of FBC and behind critical decisions, such as approving millions of dollars in business with companies represented on the board (including Yates' law firm). The committee also gave a 13 percent raise to Chinoda in December (bringing her total 2009 pay to $605,000), just six weeks before she laid off 42 employees.

None of the executive committee members returned messages seeking comment. The silence speaks volumes.

If Yates, Tomyn, Costales and Chinoda, who also serves on the executive committee, were comfortable with the way the organization is being managed, it seems reasonable that they would be willing to talk about it.

Costales, in fact, made it clear how uncomfortable he was in his resignation letter on Friday. He wrote that he approached a board phone call last week with the expectation that FBC "would move toward acknowledging our problems and begin to solve them in an open and transparent way."

"Instead, after a day of reflection, it became apparent that the organization and its leadership are not yet ready to move forward in a way that is best for FBC and the communities we serve," the letter stated.

A clean slate at the top of the board is critical to its future.

If Chinoda leaves, there will be a lot of eyes watching the process to find her replacement. It will be hard to recruit good candidates for the job if they suspect they're walking into a troubled organization that is still being led by some of the people who steered it into a mess to begin with.

It's for that same reason that FBC will likely find it difficult to draft new board members while any of the current executive committee remains in place.

Already, the board has shrunk from 42 members to 28 over the past two years. Some of Central Florida's most influential companies and institutions have given up their seats, such as Walt Disney World, Tupperware Brands Corp., Progress Energy Florida, Lockheed Martin, the University of Central Florida, Valencia Community College, Seminole State College of Florida and Daytona State College.

With Costales' departure, Universal Orlando can be added to that list.

I suspect at least some of those companies looked at the problems unfolding at FBC – including a state Senate panel that was investigating its business practices and is now pushing for new regulations – and simply opted out of the line of fire.

And Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, the only elected official who served on the board, notified FBC in November that he would no longer continue on the board this year. His office said it was a decision based on the mayor's need to spread his time among a variety of organizations after serving FBC for three years.

Considering the time commitment at FBC actually appears fairly minimal — the full board typically only meets about three times a year — it seems like another indication of just how radioactive this organization has become.

The executive committee lost two members over the past year: Darden Restaurants Chief Financial Officer Brad Richmond, who served as vice chairman, and PBS&J Executive Vice President Thomas Pellarin, who served as treasurer. Neither Richmond nor Pellarin were replaced on the executive committee.

Now is the time to bring in fresh leadership.

Otherwise FBC will continue to be hindered in its efforts to lure back loyal blood donors who provide a service so vital to our community's health.

Beth Kassab can be reached at bkassab@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.

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