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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Commissioner demands to be held blameless for terrible decisions

Al French at a candidates debate in 2018.  (Spokesman-Review)
Al French at a candidates debate in 2018. (Spokesman-Review)

Al French would like you to know it’s not his fault, nor the fault of his fellow county commissioners, that they have done what they have done to the board of the Spokane Regional Health District.

The law allowed it, so they’re not responsible.

Al French would also like you to understand that, when it comes to serving on the health board, there’s no real benefit to having medical expertise.

If you thought there was, well, that’s on you.

And Al French would also like you to understand that the latest terrible decision he and fellow County Commissioners Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney have made – in an impressively long string of terrible decisions regarding public health – was technically within the letter of the law and therefore not their fault. Just as it was technically within the letter of the law when they shrank the board by booting everyone who’d disagreed with them about their past terrible decision to cover up the botched firing of the health officer.

The law allowed it. They bear no responsibility.

“The appointments we are making today are in complete compliance with the law,” French said Monday before voting to appoint a naturopath to the health board. “If there are those that are unhappy with the law, then talk to your legislators.”

French has a chapped hide about media coverage and public criticism over the commissioners’ decision to ignore entreaties to appoint a doctor or medical expert to the board, among other issues.

He made a series of comments before taking that vote Monday and was so proud of these comments that he emailed them to some people who weren’t there to hear them, myself included, in an effort to help them be “better informed and accurate.”

In the remarks, French whines about the criticism he and his fellow health-district underminers have received. It’s nothing but misinformation and political posturing, he said.

One of the things people just don’t understand, French says, is that there’s no reason to have medical expertise on a health board.

“The Health District Board is a ‘community’ board and not a ‘medical’ board,’” French insisted. “This differentiation is critical to this process. The Health District Board provides oversight and community input to the programs and functions of the Health District. The Board DOES NOT make medical decisions.”

This is his argument for appointing a naturopath to the position on the board that is required by law to represent “public health, health care facilities and providers.”

Regional hospitals, French notes, don’t have boards that are made up entirely of doctors (though he proceeds bizarrely to cite the fact that every one does have doctors, actually). And for many years, he says, there were no doctors on the SRHD board. And – even though it absolutely, definitely doesn’t matter to French whether there is medical expertise on a health board – it was Al French himself, he notes, who years ago appointed a doctor to the board, a doctor who he would later help fire in a storm of dishonesty.

Yes, amazingly, French patted himself on the back for putting Dr. Bob Lutz on the health board back in 2011, all while arguing how beside-the-point it would be to put a doctor on the health board now.

The confusion is deep, but the pique is understandable. After all, it’s been very difficult for the commissioners, as they’ve made one terrible decision after another, that so many people have noticed.

Starting with their efforts to undermine public health at the start of the pandemic and continuing through the disastrous firing of Lutz – about which they have repeatedly told blatant falsehoods – and evolving into the latest putsch to take greater control of the board by eliminating dissenters, the commissioners have been consistently criticized in public.

French, for one, is tired of it.

“There has been a lot of misinformation and political posturing over the last many months over the creation of a new Health District Board to comply with the legislation adopted last year,” French said. “Even the legislator that sponsored the bill has criticized us for following the law and not his intent or what was in his mind when he voted for the bill.”

French is referring to the law sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, which attempted to broaden community representation and medical expertise on health boards. The law had fatal flaws that the commissioners have cynically exploited. While the law aims to expand boards by requiring districts to balance community members and elected officials, commissioners met the legal standard by shrinking the board instead, consolidating their own power and thumbing their noses at medical expertise.

The law wasn’t clear enough in requiring commissioners to do the right things, and it allowed room for them to do the wrong ones.

For this, Al French demands you hold him blameless.

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