Nine months after a long-running public clash ended Dr. Kim Thorburn’s tenure as Spokane regional health officer, she’s about to run for office against the chairman of the board that terminated her contract.
Thorburn has filed candidacy paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission, declaring that she’s running for Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke’s seat in 2008. As a county commissioner, she would automatically have a seat on the Spokane Regional Health Board.
“I’m going to be really curious to see where she’s coming from on this,” said Mielke, who said he’ll be running for re-election.
Mielke chaired the health board last fall when it voted to end Thorburn’s nine-year contract, a move reflecting what board members described as unspecified administrative problems and a communication breakdown. The decision capped a yearlong evaluation process during which board members complained about perceived arrogance by Thorburn and criticized her attire.
“It just wasn’t a good fit,” Mielke said Wednesday.
The Nov. 15 vote stunned Thorburn and dozens of her supporters, some of whom shouted “Shame on you!” as the decision was announced by board member Mary Verner, now running for Spokane mayor. At that meeting, some in the crowd vowed to oust Mielke at the next election.
Despite that history, Thorburn maintains that her candidacy is not a political grudge match.
“Water under the bridge,” she said.
Thorburn now works part time as medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest, a post she says she would leave if elected.
Two health board members – Dr. Charles Wolfe and county Commissioner Mark Richard – last week suggested the district cut ties with Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions.
Thorburn said she has long urged local Democrats to pay attention to county races, where decisions often have a direct impact on residents.
“I figured since I’m now available, I should put my money where my mouth is,” said Thorburn, 57.
She’s never held elected office, although in 2005 Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed Thorburn to head the state Board of Health. And being a health officer is good training for the broad slate of issues a county commissioner faces, Thorburn said.
If elected, she said, she’d bring “a very different direction” to the commission. Among her concerns: development over the region’s aquifer, traffic gridlock, creating more transportation options and strengthening the social safety net.
Thorburn, a former jail and prison doctor, said she’d like to strengthen alternatives to incarceration, such as drug court and mental health treatment. She said the county should also reach out more to involve citizens in local decisions.
“I’m very invested in public government,” she said.
Mielke, a Republican elected in 2004 after stints as a state lawmaker and lobbyist, said he’s proud of the county commissioners’ work. During his tenure, he said, the county has boosted regional collaboration to treat wastewater and protect the aquifer, championed a voter-approved new tax for mental health treatment and worked on economic development.
“I’d be very curious to see where she believes we’ve been going down the wrong path,” he said.
He said he has no second thoughts about the decision to end Thorburn’s contract.
“I remind people that, hey, it was a unanimous vote,” he said.
One of the other “no” votes was fellow Republican Richard. He said he wasn’t surprised that Thorburn’s running.
“One of the things that strikes me about Dr. Kim is that she says that nothing should be politicized, but that everything she does is political,” Richard said.
As with most of the other early candidates for county commission seats in Washington, Thorburn hasn’t yet raised any campaign donations.
With the primary still more than a year away, she said she’s still putting her campaign in place.