The Western Highlands Area Authority governing board is no closer to naming a new chief executive officer to the agency that provides thousands of Western North Carolina residents with mental health and other services.

After meeting in closed session for nearly three hours Thursday in Asheville, the board reconvened and the board chairman announced that no decision had been made for a new leader.

The board interviewed three finalists for the CEO post Jan. 4. Board chairman Charles Vines, who serves as Mitchell County Manager, later said he expected a decision on the new CEO at the special meeting. The board also is in the process of advertising and interviewing for a new chief financial officer.

After the board adjourned Wednesday, Vines said the finalists were still being considered. However, he went on to explain, there are many more steps before a new CEO is named for the the organization that provides behavioral health services in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania and Yancey counties. According to the agency, Western Highlands served 17,837 consumers in fiscal year 2011-12.

“There has to be state validation of credentials,” he said.

Vines said the board’s next regular meeting is Feb. 1, but added that he is does not think the board will make a decision at that time.

Jerry Rice, an advocate for individuals with special needs, asks the board of Western Highlands Network on Thursday to take more time and have service providers and the public weigh in on who will be the agency’s CEO. Leaders called a special meeting to consider CEO finalists, but adjourned without making a decision. Colby Rabon/Carolina Public Press

Jerry Rice, an advocate for adults and children with special needs, asked the board to delay a decision on naming a new CEO to give the public and behavioral health providers an opportunity “to weigh in on the decision.” The board did not respond to Rice’s request.

When board member Mandy Stone, who is also the assistant county manager for Buncombe County and the director of Buncombe DSS, called for the closed session Wednesday, she referred to a state statute allowing the meeting to be closed, which included allowing the board to negotiate the amount of compensation and other terms of a proposed employment contract.

Stone’s motion also called for the board to consider and possibly take action on the appointment of the CEO and to authorize the employment agreement.

While no action was taken upon returning to open session, Vines said he is optimistic that a decision on the new CEO can be reached by March.

“It’s taking longer than I anticipated, but we are going to work until we find the right person,” he said.

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Peggy Manning is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact her at

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