At stressful time, Boy Scouts top boss goes on medical leave

The Boy Scouts of America’s chief executive took a medical leave of absence as the youth organization faces financial difficulties related to sex-abuse litigation.

The ailing official, Mike Surbaugh, has held the BSA’s top post for four years.

The chairman of the BSA’s executive committee, James Turley, conveyed the news of Surbaugh’s departure to members of the Boy Scout’s national staff in an email sent Monday. In the note, Turley referred to the BSA’s ongoing “financial challenges.”

“The work that each of us puts into this movement is vital, but to do our best on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America, we each must also look out for our own personal health,” Turley wrote. “Today, I am reaching out to let you know that Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh is taking a medical leave of absence to focus on challenges that require his total attention.”

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The Boy Scouts’ press office confirmed Turley’s email on Tuesday, but declined to elaborate on Surbaugh’s condition or comment further.

Turley, the retired chairman and CEO of the accounting firm Ernst & Young, said he would temporality help fill the leadership void, along with Dan Ownby, a Houston-based energy industry executive who is in line to succeed Turley as BSA executive committee chairman.

Turley said the committee would work over the next several weeks to select an interim day-to-day leader for the BSA.

Surbaugh’s departure comes at a critical time for the Boy Scouts, which for years have been entangled in costly litigation with plaintiffs who said they were abused by scout leaders in their youth. Hundreds of new lawsuits may lie ahead with the recent enactment of laws in New York, New Jersey, Arizona and California making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to seek damages.

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The BSA says it’s exploring “all available options” to maintain its programs and has not ruled out the possibility of declaring bankruptcy.

Seeking to relieve some of the financial pressure, the BSA announced two weeks ago that the annual membership fee for its 2.2. million youth members will rise from $33 to $60, while the fee for adult volunteers will rise from $33 to $36. The news dismayed numerous local scout leaders, who had already started registering youths for the coming year.

Surbaugh, who gained the coveted rank of Eagle Scout in his youth, became chief scout executive on Oct. 1, 2015, after serving in lower-level scouting jobs in a half-dozen states.

From BSA headquarters in Irving, Texas, he helped develop and implement the policies that brought girls into the organization’s programs after more than a century in which its flagship programs — the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts — were boys-only.

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The BSA’s current youth participation of 2.2 million is down from more than 4 million in peak years of the past. The admission of girls was intended to slow the decline, but the membership rolls will take a big hit as of Jan. 1, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — for decades a major sponsor of Boy Scout units — cuts its ties with the BSA and launches its own global youth programs.