KENNEWICK — The Benton Franklin Health District will not endorse a colon cancer billboard campaign after all.
Benton County Commissioner Jim Beaver, who is chairman the health district board, announced Thursday, "Benton County won't be a supporter of that particular advertisement and that campaign."
Plans were to bring the "What's up your butt?" campaign from Yakima County to the Tri-Cities. It uses provocative language to encourage testing for colon cancer.
The health district board -- made up of the six Benton and Franklin county commissioners -- unanimously voted Wednesday to allow the billboards to carry the health district logo in an effort to encourage people over 50 to have colon cancer checkups.
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The board was shown a presentation with various photos of the billboards during the board's monthly public meeting.
Yakima County offered to pay to have its campaign expanded to the Tri-Cities using grant money provided to Yakima County.
There still will be three or four billboards placed beginning in early May in the Tri-Cities, but without the Benton-Franklin Health District logo. They will stay in place for 16 weeks.
Yakima County's billboard campaign began in August. A survey showed about one in six people found the message distasteful, while about one in five had no opinion about the potentially offensive language.
The remaining two-thirds felt it was a positive way to raise public awareness about colon cancer, said Jessica Brown, a public health specialist with the Yakima County Health District.
Thursday's Herald carried a news story about the cancer awareness billboard campaign.
Beaver called the newsroom before noon, saying Yakima County's cancer awareness program used language that "sparked quite a bit of concern from citizens in our community."
He said that as chairman of the bi-county board, he was directing Dr. Larry Jecha, the county health officer, to drop the Benton Franklin Health District as a supporter of "that particular advertisement."
"We've had a public outcry about the content of the 'What's up your butt?' campaign and Benton County won't be a part of it. So any signs or advertising people see will be strictly Yakima County's program," Beaver said in a phone message.
Beaver told the Herald later that he voted with the five other commissioners Wednesday to support the campaign, even though he thought at the time "it might be considered a little racy."
He said he can direct the reversal of the board's unanimous decision without needing to have another meeting or vote.
But Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, said state law does not allow the chairman of a public entity such as the health district to unilaterally reverse a decision of that entity made during a properly noticed and conducted public meeting.
The Herald was unable to reach Tim Ford, the attorney general's ombudsman in Olympia.
Benton County Commissioner Shon Small told the Herald he received about 10 phone calls or emails Thursday from people objecting to the wording for the billboards and said he agrees with pulling the Benton-Franklin logo.
"We work for the people, and we want to make sure what we do is supported by the people," Small said.
Bob Koch, chairman of the Franklin County commission, said he hadn't heard from anyone in the public one way or the other, but would go along with Beaver's demand that the health district not be involved.
Jecha emailed all the board members Thursday about the issue.
Koch said his fellow Franklin County commissioners didn't care one way or the other, and that Benton County Commission Chairman Leo Bowman responded to the email by saying it was "no big deal" to back out on supporting the billboard campaign.
"The underlying message is a good thing, but I'm not necessarily enthused by the verbiage on the sign," Koch said. "It's in your face."
By the end of the afternoon, he said, the response from the commissioners was unanimous to withdraw the support, even though the billboards will go up as planned.
Still, Jecha said the campaign is needed.
"We are underfunded for dealing with chronic disease. People need to know about good preventive measures. This is just to create public awareness for people over age 50 to go talk with their doctors about getting tested for colon cancer. It doesn't have to be a colonoscopy. It can be just a fecal occult blood count," Jecha said.
The Yakima County Health District is the lead agency for the regional Breast, Cervical and Colon Health Program.
Brown said the cost of placing the billboards, which is expected to be less than $10,000 in the Tri-Cities, is being paid by a federal grant that supports the regional program.
The billboard campaign was developed by the Colon Cancer Research Center at the University of South Carolina. Yakima was the first to use the "What's up your butt?" billboards in the western U.S., Brown said.