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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Thursday, June 17, 2004

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

Fresh breeze arrives with new leader


Steven Ballard has been on the job officially just two weeks but he is already making a strong impression. Is it possible that the right man has shown up just in time to turn a miserable two-year episode around?

First impressions are sometimes right on target. The problem with them is that they are based on nothing but gut instinct and that can be dangerous. However, if first impressions mean anything at all, East Carolina got it right this time when it hired Ballard as the new chancellor.

Thrust into the job literally from the moment he was named, Ballard had almost no time to make some key decisions. It was not fair. The athletic director search was the most visible of all the dangling issues that Ballard was faced with immediately.

Many people had been adamant about waiting until the chancellor’s position had been filled to name an AD. I was one of those people. After the two-year debacle it seemed reasonable and prudent to allow the new man to build his own team and develop the kind of chemistry with key personnel that is necessary to lead effectively.

There were those, including some members of the Board of Trustees and the search committee, who wanted the athletics job filled prior to the naming of the chancellor. A good reason has never been offered in my view.

That led to some finger pointing when Ballard went outside the three finalists to talk to Oklahoma Associate AD Rick Hart. The truth is that asking Ballard to make a quick decision on such an important hire before he even unpacked his boxes was asking too much.

Wisely, Ballard has slowed the search down and is doing what should have been done from the start. He decided to get on campus and get a better feel for what is needed before moving forward.

More confusion — or good common sense? I believe it is the right call because it is the call Ballard likely wanted to make from the beginning.

Pressure from constituencies from many different camps made a tough decision even more difficult. Ballard was wise to slow it down. He clearly had not been comfortable with at least two of the three finalists. Making a decision while learning the landscape could have been costly down the road.

It appears he has given Interim AD Nick Floyd the reigns, at least for now. Floyd appears to be making some large decisions with Ballard’s blessings, including a recent call on a huge raise for basketball assistant Greg Herenda to keep him from taking an offer from Virginia.

The athletic department is in good hands with Floyd. The new process gives Floyd another chance at showing Ballard he should be considered for the position permanently. It is clear, however, that Ballard intends to continue to search outside as well.

The belief is that stability at the top may create new interest on the part of others around the country and bring forth some new candidates who might not have been interested before they knew for whom they would be working.

Ballard has also shown tremendous poise in his efforts in the last few days to present the case for the Eastern Carolina Cardiovascular Diseases Institute to the General Assembly.

Five university administrators, including three other chancellors, were called upon to address the House of Representative’s Finance and Appropriations Committees on Tuesday in Raleigh.

Ballard clearly stood out as the most personable, sincere and persuasive in the bunch. To quote a member of the House after hearing all the speeches: “The new guy from ECU is a class act.”

Further, Ballard hosted a statewide board for The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research on Thursday evening at his home in Greenville. His warmness and charm combined with his infectious laugh made him the perfect host. The impression made on the group was evident.

On Tuesday there was a lunch break between sessions in the House, and the entire Greenville contingent made up of university, hospital, city and business leaders gathered for an informal meal at a Raleigh restaurant.

After all orders were placed, Ballard rose and went by to speak to and shake the hand of every single person (about 30) to thank them for being in Raleigh to support the Cardiovascular Center on an important day.

I could not help but think that East Carolina finally has a man in place who understands the role he must play as leader of a region while also grasping the importance of graciously rallying people to help.

Perfect? No. Misreading the Rick Hart situation is still a bit unexplainable, but Ballard’s ability to bounce back and show the proper leadership response should get him high marks.

It is still a little early to tell exactly who has moved onto Fifth Street and what his hiring will mean for the long haul.

I second the motion from the General Assembly on Tuesday, however.

Steve Ballard is a class act.

Heart beat of heart center gets stronger

The efforts of Ballard and others lobbying the General Assembly are paying off huge for the proposed Cardiovascular Diseases Institute.

Ballard told members of the House on Tuesday they should move forward immediately and pass this bill for three reasons:

  1. It has been in the planning for more than a decade;

  2. Eastern North Carolina is the nation’s leader in cardiovascular disease;

  3. Because University Health Systems is providing $150 million in private funding for the overall project, the $60 million is a great investment for the state and wise use of public funds.

That speech paid off late Wednesday afternoon as the House passed the bill including the ECU project and four other university projects by a vote of 95-25.

The project still has a ways to go. The House bill includes provisions to pay off the indebtedness with monies from the Health and Wellness Trust Fund, originally established with tobacco settlement money to discourage teen smoking and aid low income senior citizens with prescription drug costs.

That idea was removed from the bill with an amendment in the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday but added again with a slightly different twist on Wednesday in the House Rules Committee. There was a compromise to leave enough monies in the fund to continue the smoking cessation and prescription programs.

The fact that it passed the House overwhelmingly does not give it clear passage into law. There are two huge differences in the House bill passed Wednesday and the one passed two weeks ago in the Senate.

The House bill not only includes different language with regard to the retirement of the debt but also funds projects at UNC-Charlotte, Elizabeth City State and UNC-Asheville.

Senate Leader Marc Basnight wants to fund just the ECU heart project and the new cancer hospital at UNC-Chapel Hill, contending they are the two projects that have survived scrutiny from the UNC Board of Governors.

Basnight has indicated there is little room for compromise as the bill will now go to a conference committee which will be made up of members of both chambers and both parties.

There is still much fussing and horse-trading to be done.

It appears, however, that ECU will soon know the outcome of a long fight for funding on a project that will mean much economically and for the health of eastern North Carolina.

While it is looking pretty good, don’t light the cigar just yet.

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02/23/2007 10:13:41 AM

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