SRHD BOH Is Due for Change
The fallout from Covid and the Lutz firing fiasco brought it on
On May 10th Governor Inslee signed into law a bill that will bring statewide improvement to Washington’s public health system. One provision of the new law is a mandate that local public boards of health have equal numbers of elected and non-elected officials. This provision was put forward in the legislature by State Representative Marcus Riccelli (D-LD3, much of the City of Spokane) in response to the firing of Dr. Bob Lutz. Dr. Lutz was fired from his position as the Spokane Regional Board of Health’s Health Director (see below) in October 2020.
The Spokesman article by Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich discussing the new law indicates that:
The non-elected members must include an equal number from three categories:
Those with experience in public health or health care, such as physicians, nurses or health care workers.
Consumers of public health, such as residents in communities that face health inequities.
Other stakeholders, such as community-based organizations or representatives from the business community.
This should be a heads up for rational, civic-minded citizens to consider applying for positions on the Board of Health (BOH). The qualifications for and the number of positions available will be determined with a re-write of the Bylaws of the Board of Health to conform to the new state law. The upcoming change in Spokane County government coming with the 2022 elections makes it unclear when this re-write of the Bylaws will happen.1
As noted in the more detailed section below, the current Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) BOH is comprised of twelve members, only three of whom are non-elected. The new law will require a major shift in number and composition. It is time to have voices on the board that better represent the population the SHRD serves.
The structure and function of the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) Board of Health (BOH) was mostly out-of-sight and out-of-mine until Covid struck and put the BOH in the spotlight. One of the Board’s three citizen Board members, Jason Kinley, a naturopath, made news by publicly deriding public health measures against Covid. Kinley held forth in a minutes-long polemic at a May 1 protest organized by the disgraced extremist, soon-to-be-former WA State Representative (and now pastor of Covenant Church) Matt Shea. Jason Kinley still sits on the BOH despite his public undermining of the mission of the SRHD.
I naively assumed that a Board of Health might contain people with medical and epidemiological expertise. Such assumptions, I’m learning, are foolish. The SRHD BOH is one of twenty-nine boards and commissions listed at the Spokane County website many of which consist mostly of combinations of County, city, and village elected officials. Currently, nine of the twelve members of the SRHD BOH are elected officials, none of them with medical background. The three non-elected members are nominated by the three Spokane County from their commissioner districts. They are Jason Kinley, the naturopath discussed above (nominated by Commissioner Kerns, District 1); Andrea Frostad, a dental hygienist who expresses views against vaccinations (from Commissioner French’s District 1); and Chuck Hafner, a Spokane Valley businessman (from Commissioner Kuney’s District 2). Notably, somewhere I read that Commissioner Kerns’ excuse for nominating Kinley was that “Kinley was the only one who applied.” If that is true, either the position was poorly advertised or the sense of civic duty in our community is in bad repair. (Note that Mr. Hafner’s and Ms. Frostad’s four year terms are up this year, 2021, regardless of the upcoming state-mandated reorganization.)
It wasn’t just Kinley’s May 1, 2020, public protest that made news for the SRHD BOH. In late October Amelia Clark, the salaried SRHD Administrator, after a brief presentation in a closed-door “executive session” of the BOH summarily fired Dr. Bob Lutz, the SRHD Health Officer. Dr. Lutz, a highly qualified M.D. with training in epidemiology, had been managing the SRHD’s response to the Covid pandemic. Who it was that instigated Amelia Clark’s firing of Dr. Lutz remains a matter of speculation. As an administer, though, Ms. Clark got out ahead of herself in her zeal to rid SRHD of Dr. Lutz: This week the Washington State Board of Health issued a preliminary ruling that Clark violated Washington State law with her action against Lutz. The consequences of that ruling are yet to be determined.
Ms. Clark and the SRHD BOH made news for weeks after the Lutz firing. The BOH’s struggle in a partly open Zoom meeting to rubber stamp Clark’s action added to the drama. The whole episode stank of power politics. Commissioner French seemed to float behind the scenes. Immediately after the vote to confirm Lutz’ termination, French thrust forward his pre-determined candidate for the new Health Officer. Observers were left with the sense of carefully orchestrated and thinly disguised back room power play.
The SRHD BOH needs revamping. The new state law requires it. It behooves the citizens of Spokane County to pay attention and, when the member-at-large positions are clarified, to offer their applications, their time, and service.
Keep to the high ground,
Spokane County is in the midst of the re-districting necessary to transition to a three to a five member Board of County Commissioners (BoCC). The new BoCC will have each commissioner elected from one of five newly drawn commissioner districts. For more detail see Indivisible-County Redistricting Impasse