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Op-ed: Washington state’s takeover of Valley Medical Center board usurps voters
Turning control of Valley Medical Center from elected officials to unelected bureaucrats deprives voters who fund the district from having any say in how the district operates, writes guest columnist Paul Joos.
Special to The Times
COMMISSIONERS for King County Public Hospital District No. 1 are asking the state Supreme Court to rule on the validity of a new alliance created to run Valley Medical Center in Renton. This is an important case that could allow unelected bureaucrats to seize power from elected officials, rendering some elections across the state meaningless.
How would residents of Seattle react if the city entered into an alliance with the state of Washington transferring management from the elected City Council to a new23-member board of trustees? These trustees would include the nine elected City Council members plus 14 members appointed by the governor.
Residents of Seattle would rightfully be upset and demand an end to this power grab by the state.
Seattle residents would be incensed if the governor appointed former council members who were defeated at the polls as trustees. They would be even more furious if trustees appointed by the governor did not have to live in the city, and the governor could remove elected City Council members from the board.
That is precisely what has happened in King County Public Hospital District No. 1. The hospital district had been managed since 1947 by five elected commissioners. Because of the alliance between UW Medicine and Valley Medical Center, the hospital is now governed by a 13-member board of trustees that includes the five elected commissioners plus eight people appointed by UW Medicine.
Half of the appointed trustees live outside the hospital district. The appointments include former commissioners who were defeated by the voters or chose not to run for re-election.
How did this alliance between Valley Medical Center and UW Medicine come about? For years, chief executive of Valley Medical Center Rich Roodman essentially ran the commission (rather than the commission managing him), which is how he became the highest-paid bureaucrat in the state, according to a 2011 KING 5 report.
In 2006, Roodman’s troubles started getting public attention. After 94 percent of the voters rejected his annexation proposal, a complaint was filed with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). The PDC’s investigation found Roodman had illegally spent nearly $500,000 in taxpayer money on elections.
There was more trouble for Roodman in 2009 when the state auditor found serious problems at Valley Medical Center.
The audit found: Roodman was paid a $1.7 millionretirement bonus before he retired without showing any public benefit; Roodman was being paid well beyond what a competitive salary would require; the hospital had not adopted any goals for incentive pay that was paid to top executives; and Roodman paid himself a retention bonus beyond the $250,000 the board had authorized. (Roodman is paid more than the executive director of University of Washington Medical Center.)
Voters had finally had enough of Roodman’s antics and elected three commissioners who would hold Roodman accountable. The third reform commissioner, myself, was elected in November 2011. Unfortunately, that was too late because in the summer of 2011 Roodman entered into an agreement with UW Medicine.
With the approval of Roodman’s three supportive commissioners, control was transferred from the five elected commissioners to the unelected board of trustees. Roodman is no longer accountable to the elected commissioners or the voters who pay his salary and benefits.
The UW-Valley alliance is simply a scheme for Roodman to stay in power against the wishes of the voters who fund the hospital with their hard-earned tax dollars.
Turning control from elected officials to unelected bureaucrats deprives voters who fund the district from having any say in how the district operates, because the real decision-makers are no longer accountable to the voters.
This is clearly not what the people wanted when they created the hospital district. It sets a dangerous precedent.
Paul Joos is a Renton eye surgeon and the president of Public Hospital District No. 1 of King County.