Lutz, SRHD, Governance
It is Sunday early, a day I don't usually write, but circumstances demand it. Citizens of Spokane County need to pay attention to an unfolding local struggle with lives at stake. THERE ARE THREE ACTION ITEMS BELOW. (each marked in Bold).
Last Thursday, October 29th, news hit the local airwaves that the Spokane Regional Health District's health officer, Dr. Bob Lutz, had been "forced out." (For clarity, the "Health District's" district is Spokane County.) Dr. Lutz has served admirably as the District's health officer since 2017. He is a skilled physician and a scientist who pays attention to data. He has led the Covid pandemic response in Spokane County from the beginning.
The news conference SRHD held the next day was a thirty-seven minute exercise in obfuscation. Amelia Clark, the administrative officer, led off with the statement that everyone "reports up to me" including the health officer, Dr. Lutz. According to Ms. Clark, "to clarify rather than a decision [sic]" a discussion "was had" in an "executive session" of the Board of Health regarding "performance concerns of the health officer" and the "executive committee gave me their support to ask for Dr. Lutz's resignation." There was no mention of a vote or how each of the twelve members of the Board of Health stood on the decision Ms. Clark claimed was hers to make without further explanation to the public.
We, as citizens of Spokane, need clear answers, not executive decisions made in the dark. What the hell is the "performance concern?" What is the evidence? Who is driving this decision at the end of week before a major election, right as we see record numbers of local infections and deaths and as the whole country faces the pandemic surge experts have predicted for months?
That brings me to the first action item: Sign on to the petition for Spokane Regional Health District Transparency addressed to the SRHD Board Members. Here's the link:
Under "organization or business" I put "retired." Others have suggested "voter." There is no need to specify your employer unless you are authorized to speak for the organization.
This afternoon at 3PM (remember we're now on Pacific Standard Time. Sunset 4:30PM) there is a gathering at the Spokane Regional Health District Building (1101 W College Ave, the tan building with the cylindrical, domed corners on the north side of the river) to show support for transparency and Dr. Lutz. It should be a beautiful afternoon. Please wear your masks and practice social distancing. (In Dr. Lutz's words,“Breathe. Just not on each other.”)
This is an evolving story. Amelia Clark, whatever her motives and influences, did not read the Bylaws of the Board of Health, nor Washington State Law. There is an excellent article this morning on the front page of the Spokesman and online (similar content by different bylines) that details the power structure and governance of SRHD and its Board. The same front page notes that Dr. Lutz has not resigned and has hired legal council, suggesting a power struggle to which we should all be paying attention.
Six members of the twelve member Board of Health are the (very Republican) Commissioners of Spokane County, Al French, Josh Kerns, and Mary Kuney, and their three appointees (one of whom, Jason Kinley, is an ally of Matt Shea and a speechifying opponent of pandemic management). French, arguably the most powerful elected official in eastern Washington, almost never attends SRHD Board meetings, but might well be pulling strings behind the scenes. All six of these people have been silent since this controversy blew up, pushing other local (city) officials into the spotlight as the public face of the Board.
I smell a rat. The only two of the twelve members of the Board of Health who are on Tuesday's ballot are Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney. Their silence I read as complicity. If you haven't already turned in your ballot at one of the drop boxes, register your protest by voting for David Green and Ted Cummings to replace these two--and put French in your sights for the next election cycle.
Keep to the high ground,