County's leaders interview candidate for hospital CEO

LAWRENCEVILLE - Hospital officials are turning to community leaders to help decide on the new leader for two of Gwinnett's hospitals.

Last week, the top two men in county government - Chairman Charles Bannister and County Administrator Jock Connell - interviewed one of four candidates to become chief executive officer of the Gwinnett Health System, which operates hospitals in Lawrenceville and Duluth.

Hospital officials have not released information about the candidates but say they hope to hire a new CEO by the end of March. Frank Rinker, who held the position for 20 years, was fired last year.

According to hospital board Chairman Wayne Sikes, Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jim Maran also met the candidate, and Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks was asked to attend the two-day interview session.

Wilbanks couldn't fit the interview into his schedule, but Sikes said he hopes the superintendent can be available when the other three candidates come to town.

"It signaled that this county is united in making the hospital a priority," Sikes said.

Sikes said the candidate appreciated the show of support.

When Connell asked him if he had any questions about the county, the candidate reportedly responded, "Your being here answers my question."

Bannister and Connell have both said they believe the hospital is a key part of building a strong community, and Bannister was a member of the hospital system board for more than a decade.

For more than a year, the county government has been studying the possibility of helping the hospital with its plans to expand. The system has asked either for monetary support or the ability to use the county's triple-AAA bond rating to expand the facilities.

A decision hasn't been reached, and both Bannister and Sikes said the joint interview isn't any indication of a future collaboration.

"There will be a connection there, more than a liaison," Bannister said. "We're not looking to run a hospital. We don't want control."

Bannister said he was impressed with the candidate.

"This guy convinced me he knows his stuff," he said. "If they (the other candidates) are comparable, they'll get somebody good."

Sikes said the county leaders brought in to meet the candidate don't have a vote in the decision, but their input will be valuable.

"We're trying to signify it by letting everyone have a say in who's picking the leadership," he said. "We're trying to get community buy-in."