Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart is calling for Councilman Mike Fagan to resign his health board seat after Fagan publicly questioned the use of vaccines.
Stuckart, who has the power to appoint and remove council members from board positions, said Tuesday that he wants Fagan to resign from the health board, and suggested he would remove him if Fagan remained.
“I did ask our legal department the protocol for removing him from the board,” Stuckart said. “I have concerns and I am listening to citizens. Personally, I’d prefer that he resign.”
Also Tuesday, other members of the region’s health board distanced themselves from Fagan’s opinions questioning the use of vaccines and linking infectious disease to illegal immigration. The health district is governed by its 12-member board, which is made up of Spokane and Spokane Valley city council members, Spokane County commissioners, an elected representative of a smaller city and three appointed citizens.
Stuckart, who said he received many emails asking him to take Fagan off the board, said removing Fagan would likely create friction at City Hall.
“I’d have to write a resolution, we’d have to vote on it, and that would create a real controversial situation,” Stuckart said. On his Facebook page Saturday, Fagan said he questioned the science behind vaccinations, and likened the issue to climate change, which he has long said is not caused by human activity. Fagan also said “the comeback of these diseases is because of the influx of illegal aliens.” Fagan’s comments came days after the health district urged residents to make sure they are vaccinated against measles.
Attempts made to reach Fagan were unsuccessful Tuesday evening.
Dr. Joel McCullough, the county’s top public health official, has pushed back against Fagan’s remarks, saying that “vaccination is the only real way to contain these contagious diseases.”
On Tuesday, other health board members followed McCullough’s lead. But none of the members reached would go as far as Stuckart’s call for Fagan’s resignation. Spokane City Council members Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref, who are on the health board, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
“I completely disagree with him,” Chuck Hafner said of Fagan. Hafner is a Spokane Valley City Council member and chairman of the Board of Health. “We’re here to protect people. We have to do what’s right for the community.”
Bob Lutz, a local physician appointed to the board by County Commissioner Al French, said it was important to hear the “whole continuum of beliefs and opinions.”
“But irrespective of the amount of data we present to some people, they’re not going to try and change their opinion,” Lutz said. “What do the facts and the data show? That’s a real challenge when working with people such as Mike. … My experience with Mike is he sort of shuts down.”
Lutz wouldn’t say if he thought Fagan should be removed from the board, but he did say he “was very surprised to see Mike on the board.”
“He’s ideologically driven,” Lutz said. “He doesn’t really look at science at all. His whole logic on illegal immigrants is so far out there.”
Ed Pace, a Spokane Valley City Council member on the health board, said he generally sided with Fagan on issues – except this one.
“I agree with Mike on a lot of things, just not the science. It’s not very good science,” Pace said. “I personally am vaccinated and I personally had my kids vaccinated. I have four kids. I didn’t feel the need to opt out.”
Pace said Fagan was “entitled to his opinion like any other citizen,” and supported Fagan’s role on the board.
“We’re all entitled to speak whatever we want,” Pace said. “If there’s poor judgment in whatever we say, we have to face the consequences.”
Keith Baldwin, who spent decades in hospital administration and was appointed to the board by County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn, sided with his fellow board members.
“I’m very supportive of vaccinations and I understand the science,” he said.
Baldwin said he had not heard Fagan make such comments previously, but the type of comment was not new to him.
“I have heard from a number of groups in Washington that are not supportive of vaccinations. They have data they use to support their opinions,” he said. “I think they have a sincere fear of some of the medical science, which they and others don’t necessarily understand or are familiar with.”
Baldwin said Fagan was welcome to his opinions and noted that Fagan had little power as just one member of the board.
“Whatever policy decisions or decisions that are carried into the community … would have to be made by a majority of the board,” he said. “He’s just one person.”
Hafner, the board’s chairman, agreed. He stressed that he was speaking for himself, not the entire board.
“He’s appointed by the City Council. If he’s to be taken off of the board, it would be in conjunction with what Ben (Stuckart) is thinking about,” Hafner said. Fagan was appointed early last year.
Hafner added that as a former school principal, he was familiar with people who protested the use of vaccinations, which usually occurred during “immunization Saturdays” where shots were given for a dollar apiece to students.
“He’s ultraconservative,” Hafner said. “I don’t know if that fits in with his particular philosophy or not.”
County Commissioners Todd Mielke and O’Quinn addressed Fagan’s statements at a meeting Tuesday night.
O’Quinn said she supports vaccinations. She said the return of diseases such as the measles is a consequence of people choosing not to immunize themselves or their children.
“We worked really hard, as a society, to eradicate these diseases,” she said.
But O’Quinn doesn’t think Fagan should be removed from the health board.
“He’s just one vote,” she said, adding that she appreciates people challenging the “status quo” on public service committees.
Spokane Mayor David Condon declined to comment on Monday about the vaccination comments Fagan posted on his Facebook page. Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, said Tuesday that Condon is not taking a position on whether Fagan should resign from the board.
“That’s really a council issue,” Coddington said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.