Keep eye on prize: patients, openness

Here’s part of the reason behind the state’s Open Meetings Act, as outlined by the state Legislature.

Open meetings

Here’s part of the reason behind the state’s Open Meetings Act, as outlined by the state Legislature.

“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

Anthony Hemstad faces a tough choice. Does he continue to run the day-to-day operations of Maple Valley or does he try to shape the policies of Public Hospital District 1, which operates Valley Medical Center in Renton.

It seems there’s little chance that either the Maple Valley City Council or the hospital district board, of which he is a newly elected member, will change the day or the time of their meetings (both Monday evening) to accommodate Hemstad, Maple Valley’s city manager.

Hemstad wanted the hospital board meetings moved to the evening, part of his good-government campaign to win election to the board, which he narrowly did last fall. The board obliged last week on a 3-2 vote. Hemstad wanted any evening but Monday.

Was Hemstad ambushed by the three other board members who voted to move the meeting time? That’s hard to say. Board members argue they were carrying out Hemstad’s wishes. That argument provides them a safe haven for other motives, which, like I just said, may or may not exist. The hospital board has met on Mondays for 12 years, so it makes sense to stick to that routine.

Hemstad should have known the risks his reform plan held for him when he ran for office.

So set aside motives. What I want to clarify, at least as I see it, is one of the “whereas” in a resolution of no confidence in Hemstad brought to the hospital board by two citizens. The board didn’t act on the resolution.

That “whereas” points to two pieces of legislation sponsored by Sen. Pam Roach that the groups, Coalition to Preserve Our Hospital District and the Benson Hill Communities Progress Group, contend would dismantle the hospital district. I don’t see it that way.

One requires two public hearings before the board calls for an election on an annexation. What’s wrong with public input? You will see that I’ve included the reasoning behind the state’s Open Meetings Act along with this column. Hospital boards, city councils, etc. etc. are not fiefdoms.

The second relates to how a city can withdraw from a hospital district, the same process to withdraw from a water or sewer district. Now, the requirement is 25 percent of the qualified voters in the area to be withdrawn. Roach’s bill reduces that to 15 percent. That obviously makes it easier to collect the necessary signatures, but it’s not an overt attempt to dismantle the hospital district. Rhetoric can sometimes obscure reality.

Just what role does Roach play in all this? Hemstad said he hasn’t talked to her about hospital matters since his election. She supported Hemstad, but didn’t directly donate money to his campaign. The citizens group is trying to portray her as a puppet-master, directing Hemstad and controlling his thoughts. That’s overstated, although they have very similar views on hospital issues. Hemstad has many Republican friends, including many moderates.

Then there’s Hemstad’s own 10-point plan for reform. All make sense and many governments will pick and choose from this laundry list of ideas. I don’t think it’s a failed organization that doesn’t adhere to all of them. One idea calls for tape recording hospital board meetings. That’s a common practice for governing bodies, especially city councils, but its not one required by state law. It’s a good idea. In these contentious days, a fail-safe recording would ensure the hospital board doesn’t get into a he said/she said type of debate over what happened at a meeting. Minutes can quickly become politicized.

None of Hemstad’s suggestions is onerous. I haven’t done the research to see how many the hospital board already follows. But it wouldn’t hurt to keep an open mind about any of them, even if Hemstad isn’t on the board.

It’s hard to argue with open government, accessible to the governed. That’s more possible now, with the board’s decision to move its meetings to Monday. Placing fault serves no purpose. Hemstad faces a decision that no one should face. No matter what Hemstad decides, the hospital board needs to focus on providing health care for the district in an open way.

And maybe it’s time to leave Roach out of it, mostly for the sake of dealing with the real problems.

Dean A. Radford can be reached at 425-255-3484, ext. 5050, or at dean.radford@rentonreporter.com.

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