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Snoqualmie Valley Hospital politics heat up over board seat, future; Supporters, staff say mission must continue
Both critics and supporters of Public Hospital District 4 are watching its board closely this winter, as the district’s commission transitions to a new era and brings on a new board member.
The Snoqualmie City Hall meeting room was filled to occupancy on Thursday, Jan. 2, as more than 100 employees, patients and concerned citizens weighed in on the politics surrounding the change of seats on the commission.
Changes date to the November 2013 election, when Gene Pollard, a sitting commissioner for position 3 and a critic of hospital management, challenged and ousted Kevin Hauglie, the nine-year incumbent in Position 4. Pollard’s former seat must now be filled, and the district is seeking resumes from interested residents.
Also in the general election, another incumbent at position 2, Dick Jones, was replaced by Preston resident Dariel Norris.
In December, at Jones and Hauglie’s final meeting, the board voted 4-1, with Pollard objecting, on a new three-year contract for Hospital Administrator Rodger McCollum.
McCollum is paid $166,000 per year. His prior contract, for five years, expires later this year. McCollum told the Record that the renewal came at the request of board members.
“With a change in the makeup of the board, it was felt that this would provide the district with stability for the next three years, while we complete existing projects, namely the construction, move in, and occupancy of the new hospital,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Now under construction on Snoqualmie Ridge, the new hospital is twice the size of the existing Meadowbrook Way facility
However, the contract renewal wasn’t without critics. One district resident, Doug McClelland, sent an e-mail to Pollard and the new commissioner, Norris, calling for an auditor’s investigation into the vote and a recall of the remaining incumbents, Joan Young and Dave Speikers. McClelland also called for concerned citizens to come to last Thursday’s meeting.
“I was upset because, in the last minutes of the December board meeting, without any public dialogue, they gave (McCollum) a half-million-dollar golden parachute,” McClelland stated at Thursday’s meeting.
“I want to make certain there is open transparency and accountability in the management of the hospital district,” McClelland said. “I hope we run a fair administration that is making good decisions about how we spend that little money we have.”
“Commission dynamics have changed in the new year, and they’ll continue to change,” commented district resident Ken Konigsmark. He agreed that the hospital serves a “vital purpose,” but acknowledged “widespread concerns about transparency and public trust,” which he said were demonstrated by the election. “If we want a good hospital, we need a new commissioner who will ask tough questions and demand clear answers, and who will not be a rubber stamp to the administration.”
Konigsmark questioned the reason and cost for a recently hired parliamentarian, retired judge and former Bellevue mayor Terry Luekens, to help run board meetings.
Leukens is paid $500 per hour. He was brought on board in December.
“Since we are not experts in parliamentary procedures, we brought in someone with credentials that could guide us in following appropriate procedures for our public meetings to ensure fairness for all,” McCollum told the Record.
Preserving the hospital
Most of the speakers who took the podium Thursday were employees and supporters, who urged the board to preserve the district and their work.
“Snoqualmie Valley Hospital is becoming more essential as our population ages and our communities continue to grow,” said North Bend resident Carol Robertson, who worked to get local care for one of her home-care clients at the hospital. “The hospital is a vital part of what attracts people, so it must continue to grow, if we’re going to continue to provide skilled care to people.”
“I’m concerned about the perceived objective of some of the commissioners to dismantle a jewel of the Valley,” said hospital supporter Steve Weaver. A 20-year Valley resident, chamber member and Encompass board member, Weaver has been a patient, and a parent of patients.
“I have seen amazing things done in partnership with the hospital. I want to make it clear that I believe the group of people opposing the continued growth of the hospital are a very small minority of the Valley,” Weaver said. “I admire Rodger’s vision for the new facility.”
“If anybody was going to dismantle the hospital, I’d probably be the first one they’d call,” commented North Bend resident Hershel Backues, who stated that he’s been attending commission meetings for two decades. The new hospital will be built, he conceded, and “there’s nothing wrong with the service this hospital is giving.”
But Backues warned the commissioners that public perceptions are working against them.
“All five of you: The administrator works for you. Your job is to work for the people that elected you… to see to it they get the best service the hospital can provide. The perception is that…it’s nothing but a dogfight every time you guys get together. I hope you can somehow recall the art of compromise, the art of communication. Put personalities aside. Leave the administrator out of it. Take care of business and give him the direction that you want this place to go.
“If you don’t do this, the perception is, it’s going to be business as usual,” Backues added. “I think Dick Jones and Kevin Hauglie were victims of this perception. If you don’t resolve these issues, you’re going to have a couple more commissioners lose their jobs. It’s because of these lousy personality problems on the board. You can solve these problems, but you’ve got to do it, the five of you, together.”
One former commissioner shared his perspective.
“It’s interesting that it took Dick and I to sit on this side of the table to fill the room,” commented Hauglie.
He told the board that it needs to change its bylaws to prohibit seated commissioners from running against their fellows. He also had questions of his own for the board members.
“Do you support the hospital being built? As a member of the board, will you exercise your best due diligence to help the hospital succeed? Or will you tear it down?” asked Hauglie. “We need essential services in the Valley.”
To Norris, he said, “you have such a unique opportunity to learn that I ask you to demonstrate through your actions, your commitment to this endeavor.”
Valley residents who are interested in serving on the board of commissioners can send resumes and letters of interest by regular mail to the hospital address, 9575 Ethan Wade Way S.E., Snoqualmie, WA 98065, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resumes will be accepted until close of business on Friday, Jan. 17. To learn more about the board, visit www.snoqualmiehospital.org/about/board-of-commissioners.
Preston-area resident Ken Konigsmark challenges the board to appoint a new commission to ask tough questions about hospital spending and accountability. “Demand real answers,” he said.
“I know how to work with other people” to get things done,” said Snoqualmie resident Ryan Roberts, who put his hat in the ring as an interested applicant for commissioner. Roberts is a vice president at a professional services firm.