Roughly 450,000 people in South King County who are in Public Hospital District No. 1 were ill-served by the last act of the outgoing board...

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Roughly 450,000 people in South King County who are in Public Hospital District No. 1 were ill-served by the last act of the outgoing board of commissioners, which oversees Valley Medical Center.

In the 60 years since Valley Medical Center in Renton has been a Public Hospital District, it has never felt it needed an ethics code for its elected hospital commissioners. That changed at this board’s final meeting. The board, with no prior hearings or debate, passed as its last action a 10-section, 27-subsection, highly legalistic and complex “Code of Ethics for Commissioners.” What drove the very rapid adoption of such a code? Perhaps that Valley Medical, and specifically its CEO, just weeks before had to pay the largest Public Disclosure Commission fine in state history for misusing public funds to run its election campaigns? No. Curiously, this fine was not even addressed in the new ethics code. Actually, the board awarded CEO Rich Roodman a five-year contract extension as another of its final acts.

Apparently, the emergency that caused this previously nonessential code to be rushed through was the election of two reform candidates who will take the oath of office and join the commission tomorrow. The reformers ran on a platform of open government and greater transparency. The board’s new ethics code contrives to minimize openness and render reform much more difficult.

The three of us have watched Valley Medical’s board closely since its attempt in 2006 to try to annex much of Southeast King County by calling an “emergency” election in the spring and not even publishing a voters pamphlet nor stating that it was a major tax increase. That highly unusual and nontransparent attempt was defeated with more than 96 percent of voters rejecting the annexation.

We were enthusiastic supporters of the reform candidates Anthony Hemstad and Sue Bowman, who stepped up to return Valley Medical to good and open governance standards. It was encouraging to see that the voters chose reform in the last elections, as Hemstad defeated the board’s president, who had served for 20 years. Bowman defeated a 12-year incumbent.

Unfortunately, the response by this commission has not been to accept the voice of the people who clearly voted for change and reform, but to thwart the will of the voters.

Among the most egregious items in this new code:

• Commissioners are required to work for the “best interests of the District.” That would be like a governor who was only allowed to do what is in the best interests of the bureaucracy. Commissioners are elected to represent the best interests of the people. That is their constituency, not the institution they oversee.

• Commissioners must refer questions or concerns from employees, medical staff or the public to the superintendent, who will investigate and get back to the commission.

This seems to be the “stop the Whistleblower Act,” too. A fundamental duty of elected officials is to hear grievances and work for solutions. Employees particularly will not want to come forward if they know their concerns will immediately be sent to the superintendent (CEO), who has hiring/firing authority over all employees. Employees should be encouraged to express grievances and have their concerns protected, not be barred from talking with elected officials.

• Commissioners may not disclose … the district’s financial plans, budgets, strategies, goals or progress toward accomplishing the same. That the current board considers anything in its financial plans and budgets as being confidential and nondisclosable is surprising. A public hospital district is not the Department of Defense. No “black budget” exists where the public is not allowed to review how taxpayer funds are being spent. Budgets of public institutions normally need, and receive, the most robust debate.

There are numerous other items in the code that are as equally egregious and fully out of line with duties elected officials take on, especially where it circumscribes the official’s responsibility to oversee and publicly debate the many issues that come before a local government.

The state has clear laws that regulate ethics of elected officials. To call this new regulation by Valley Medical a “Code of Ethics” is Orwellian and definitely not in the public interest of promoting transparency and good government.

Sunlight and openness create better government. This code moves in exactly the wrong direction and is a violation of the Hippocratic oath when turned to public policy.

We call on the commissioners to immediately repeal this code and instead work to fully inform and engage the public they were elected to represent.

Pete Lewis is the mayor of Auburn. Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, represents the 31st District, and state Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, represents the 5th District.