The new, dominating bloc of the Kennewick Public Hospital District board has taken contention to a frightening level.
In an effort to fast track their agenda, board members Kathy Davidson, Rick Reil, Marv Kinney and Don Campbell appear to have manipulated and abused open meetings law, and dismissed public rights in the process.
Campbell said everything was done legally and above board. But the strategy they used to find a firm to guide the hospital district for six months is fraught with ambiguity. If it had been a completely open process, there wouldn’t be so much confusion about it.
It is no secret that this group believes administrative changes at Trios Health need to be made. In a heated debate about 18 months ago, Reil, Davidson and Kinney pushed for the hiring of an outside consultant to help the hospital district through a financial crisis.
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That suggestion was voted down at the time in a 4-3 split. However, Campbell was elected to the board in November, and his addition this year shifted power to the anti-establishment camp.
This fresh combination wasted no time in devising a way to bring in a management consultant now that it has the votes to do it. But instead of being up-front and discussing the details of their plans at full board meetings, these four members voted to create an ad-hoc committee to discuss the issue, develop a Request for Proposal and return to the board with a recommendation.
The committee included just three board members appointed by board president Kinney. They were all from one side — Reil, Davidson and Campbell.
In an incredibly quick turnaround, six requests-for-proposal were sent out and the group selected two firms for the full board to consider in a little more than a month’s time. Judging by the reaction by board members Wanda Briggs, Jim Mefford and Mike McWhorter, they were caught off guard by the process.
McWhorter had said the RFPs should have been discussed by the full board, and Briggs said she thinks the ad-hoc committee overstepped its authority by sending them out. But members of the ad-hoc committee believed they had that authority.
Briggs said she believes the open meetings law was violated, and the best thing to do now is nullify all actions by the committee and start over. We would favor that.
According to an official with the state Attorney General’s office, if a public board gives some of its decision-making authority to a subcommittee, then that committee must conduct itself under the open meetings law.
We think the legality of the committee’s actions is murky.
At the very least, the four board members went against the spirit of the open meetings law. In their attempt to force their will and keep fellow board members out of the process, they kept the public out of it, too
According to the Request for Proposal, the board is seeking not just guidance, but a chief project officer to begin implementing changes right away. A decision of this magnitude, which essentially replaces the present CEO for six months, should be discussed in public before the entire hospital district board. There were key steps in this process where that did not happen.
The more contentious a decision, the more open the debate should be.