Newcomer challenges incumbent for Kennewick Public Hospital District seat

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldOctober 21, 2013 

A longtime Kennewick Public Hospital District board member is vying to keep her seat against a challenger making his first bid for the post.

The race for Position 5 pits incumbent Wanda Briggs against Rick Fehr.

Fehr, 48, works as a private investigator and for an armored vehicle company. He is active with the Benton County Republican Party and described himself as a fiscal conservative, saying he would bring that mindset to the board.

He said Briggs has a fine record but never has had a challenger and "no one should go unopposed."

The hospital board is divided, Fehr said. "I feel like I could talk to both sides. I'm not a divider. I would do the best I can to bring it together," he told the Herald.

Asked about the hospital system's new name -- the district is doing business as Trios Health, following recent action by the board -- Fehr said he liked the old moniker and feels the new one will bring confusion. He also said he feels the public was left out of the renaming process.

Still, "it's a done deal" and now "we've got to promote it and make sure it's promoted right," he said

Fehr will bring fresh energy to the board, which has several aging members including Briggs, who is 74, he said. Terms last six years.

"I'm a younger person. I think I can bring more energy, more time to the board. I want to save the taxpayers money. I want to serve the community and this is my way of doing it," he said.

Briggs, who has been on the board for 15 years, said she brings considerable energy and passion, as well as valuable experience.

She said she works "tirelessly for this hospital district because I believe in it."

When she became a commissioner, "there was a disjointed management organization, a disheartened board that had tried to merge with Kadlec" and shaky finances, among other issues, Briggs said.

"I think what you have to do is compare that with today," she said, adding that the health system -- set to open a new Southridge hospital next spring -- now has the staff and finances "to move with confidence into the future."

"I helped lead that turnaround and I want to be here to help see it through," Briggs said.

She added that now isn't the time for "an untested hand" helping to lead the hospital district.

Briggs, a retired Tri-City Herald reporter, said her years as a journalist taught her to ask tough questions and to refuse to accept nonanswers. "I believe voters are entitled to not only transparency, but competency and compassion" in a board member, and she brings those qualities, she said.

Briggs considers herself fiscally conservative but that the position is nonpartisan and party politics don't play a role in running a hospital district.

She challenged Fehr's view that the board is divided, saying they don't always agree but generally work well together.

When it comes to the name change, Briggs said the new name is a better fit and that officials have openly discussed rebranding for years.

Briggs and Fehr have drawn endorsements from residents and community leaders, with current hospital board members also throwing their support into the mix.

Briggs, for example, has endorsements from board colleagues Jim Mefford, Donna Vance and Victor Johnson, while board member Rick Reil has expressed support for Fehr.

Commissioners are paid $114 per day spent on meetings.

Ballots are due by Nov. 5.

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