For those who took the time to watch last Thursday's, December 3, meeting of the Spokane Regional Health District's Board of Health one thing was clear. With the interim appointment of Dr. Francisco Velazquez as the interim District Health Officer local business interests got what they wanted, a doctor who is a creature of the corporate board room and will not make waves in the community.
The Board of Health meeting (watch here) unfolded as predicted (See P.S. in Cut Adrift in Covid). The meeting lasted two hours and six minutes, thirty-five minutes of which was an "executive session" (which the public cannot hear or watch). The Board emerged from executive session (43:13) with a motion to appoint Dr. Francisco Velasquez as interim Health Director. The motion was made, seconded, and passed by unanimous voice vote within minutes of the Board's return from executive session. There was no public deliberation.
Dr. Velazquez appeared on screen during the entire meeting, appearing both before and after the executive session. He was silent, apart from a thirteen minute speech (1:34-1:47) in which he spoke in glowing terms of the staff of SRHD, nodded to other infectious disease issues in the community (Get your flu shot!), offered a brief update on Covid-19 tests. Surely, he met the expectations of those who has just hired him. The Board was relieved of the need to contemplate the grim local pandemic statistics nor did Dr. Velazquez challenge the Board toward any intervention. The message was, "Be calm, the good staff of SRHD has this all under control."
The contrast between Dr. Velazquez and Dr. Lutz interaction with the Board was striking. Dr. Lutz served (without pay) as a member-at-large of the Board of Health for eight years prior to his appointment as Health Officer two years ago. Dr. Lutz clearly understood the mission of the Health Officer detailed in state law (RCW 70.05.070--copied in full below) to "Control and prevent the spread of any dangerous, contagious or infectious diseases that may occur within his or her jurisdiction." Dr. Lutz was deeply engaged in those efforts. He appeared at the Board of Health meetings during the pandemic to offer a short fact-filled report of the details of his and SHRD's efforts to serve that mission, not to offer platitudes and kind words to the Board.
Commissioner Al French and his business allies got what they wanted from the engineered firing of Dr. Lutz. With Dr. Velazquez as Lutz' replacement. Mr. French got a compliant Health Officer who attends entire Board meetings and offers flowery speech of little substance when asked to report. Dr. Velazquez face is directed at the Board. Dr. Lutz' face was directed at the community he was tasked to serve.
The remainder of the current meeting was all end-of-year congeniality. Commissioner Al French, the man behind the curtain, along with Andrea Frostad, were counted as present at the beginning of the meeting but were not seen in the video and gave no more indication of their presence. Ordinarily, Board of Health meetings are held just ten times a year and are little noticed by the public. The November 5 meeting, in contrast, the one at which the Board voted 8 to 4 to fire Dr. Lutz, was viewed 9,400 times. By the December 3rd meeting public interest waned--just 270 views on YouTube in the two days that followed it.
How soon after a public outrage that our attention turns elsewhere.
The pandemic thrust the SRHD Board of Health under the spotlight. We need to remember the eight of the twelve members of the Board who voted to fire Dr. Lutz. Municipal elections happen again in less than a year. In two years there will be five newly drawn county commissioner districts to fill. In the meantime we need to learn enough civics to understand and knowledgeably push for a revamping of the composition of the Board of Health.
Public Health Action Coalition Team of Spokane (PHACTS) is gathering people interested in furthering these efforts. Check out their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PHACTSpokane, or email an inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. KXLY profiled PHACTSand has covered input from City Council President Breean Beggs and State Legislative District 3 Representative Marcus Riccelli.
Keep to the high ground,
Local health officer—Powers and duties.
(1) Enforce the public health statutes of the state, rules of the state board of health and the secretary of health, and all local health rules, regulations and ordinances within his or her jurisdiction including imposition of penalties authorized under RCW 70A.125.030 and 70A.105.120, the confidentiality provisions in RCW 70.02.220 and rules adopted to implement those provisions, and filing of actions authorized by RCW 43.70.190;
(2) Take such action as is necessary to maintain health and sanitation supervision over the territory within his or her jurisdiction;
(3) Control and prevent the spread of any dangerous, contagious or infectious diseases that may occur within his or her jurisdiction;
(4) Inform the public as to the causes, nature, and prevention of disease and disability and the preservation, promotion and improvement of health within his or her jurisdiction;
(5) Prevent, control or abate nuisances which are detrimental to the public health;
(6) Attend all conferences called by the secretary of health or his or her authorized representative;
(7) Collect such fees as are established by the state board of health or the local board of health for the issuance or renewal of licenses or permits or such other fees as may be authorized by law or by the rules of the state board of health;
(8) Inspect, as necessary, expansion or modification of existing public water systems, and the construction of new public water systems, to assure that the expansion, modification, or construction conforms to system design and plans;
(9) Take such measures as he or she deems necessary in order to promote the public health, to participate in the establishment of health educational or training activities, and to authorize the attendance of employees of the local health department or individuals engaged in community health programs related to or part of the programs of the local health department.