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Valley Medical commissioners to consider key change to ethics code; read the code

Valley Medical Center's commissioners will consider a change to their ethics code Monday that if not made could make them complicit with violations by other members.

The change was suggested on Monday by hospital CEO Rich Roodman in advance of an inspection by state auditors in July. However, he also suggested the commissioners wait until this Monday's regular meeting when it was presumed  commissioners Dr. Aaron Heide and Anthony Hemstad would attend.

Hemstad and Heide didn't attend the special meeting Monday.

In an e-mail to the Renton Reporter, Hemstad had indicated that because of scheduling conflicts, neither he nor Heide could attend last Monday's meeting. He wrote the meeting was scheduled without first checking with Heide or himself.

Monday's meeting was attended by Commissioners Carolyn Parnell, Don Jacobson and Sue Bowman.

Monday's meeting is a regularly scheduled meeting of the board. It's at 4 p.m. in the board room at Valley Medical.

Last year state auditors recommended that all five commissioners should sign the Code of Ethics acknowledgment letter, which Heide and Hemstad did not do.

Last year's audit called the Code of Ethics a "model of leadership" and a demonstration that commissioners are committed to ethical behavior.

Valley Medical's attorney David Smith pointed out that commissioners are still bound by the code, even if they don't sign it.

Hemstad on Monday said he didn't sign the acknowledgment letter of the code, which he says is unconstitutional as an infringement on freedom of speech. He cites concerns raised by the Institute for Justice, which specializes in First Amendment cases.

"I agree with the Institute for Justice that Valley's Commissioner Ethics Code as it stands limits the First Amendment rights of elected officials.  I will sign no document I consider unconstitutional," he wrote in an e-mail.

"As I've said in the past, I do and will follow all state and federal ethics laws but not an arbitrary code purposely put together to try and limit my ability to speak out against problems at Valley.  This clearly was designed as a "gotcha" to make us look "unethical" when what we're trying to do is our job as an elected official and speak out whenever I see a problem - and I've seen several."

The Code of Ethics specifically addresses Hemstad's concern:

"None of the principles and practices outlined in the Code is intended to restrict any Commissioner from exercising its (sic) constitutional rights of free speech and should not be so construed. Furthermore, the exercise of such rights shall not subject any Commissioner to any sanctions under this code, even if such exercise is otherwise inconsistent with a stated principle or practice of appropriate ethical conduct.

Roodman is suggesting that commissioners remove the phrase "or other Commissioners" from this part of the acknowledgment letter:

"I am not aware of any violations of the Code involving myself or other Commissioners that occurred since the later of the adoption of the Code, the last time I executed and delivered Receipt and Acknowledgment or the beginning of the last fiscal year that have not otherwise been reported in according with the procedures set forth in the Code."

Roodman then explained his reasoning for the suggestion, saying the board has seen several examples of "potential conflicts of interest." His examples involved Heide and Hemstad.

Whether they are conflicts is not his decision, Roodman said. "That is something for you to think about," he said.

Roodman pointed to one section of the code which states that commissioners shall conduct their official and personal affairs "in such a manner as to give the clear impression that they cannot be improperly influenced in the performance of their official duties."

For example, Roodman said Heide is the paid director of the stroke center at Auburn Regional Medical Center, one of Valley's closest competitors. Heide acknowledged that he had a conflict at a March 7 board meeting, Roodman said.

But at the meeting Heide explained that voters had "vetted" whether a conflict existed. However, Heide only mentioned that he was the founder of Valley Medical Center's Stroke Center, with no reference to his Auburn positon, Roodman said.

"I want you to be aware of that because if you don't make this amendment and you go ahead, there is some complicity in signing the document the way it is," Roodman said.

Roodman pointed out that Hemstad voted against locating a freestanding Emergency Department in Covington. Also proposing such a facility in Covington is MultiCare, which Roodman said is the biggest corporation that competes against Valley Medical.

Roodman said Hemstad did not disclose beforehand that MultiCare was a highest-level sponsor of the World Trade Center in Tacoma, of which Hemstad is the president and CEO. He did so later, upon questioning, Roodman said.

The Code of Ethics requires that commissioners disclose any potential conflicts and if necessary somehow remove those conflicts, both in public and private business.

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