New hospital commissioner squeezed

A new member of the elected board that oversees Valley Medical Center faces an uncertain future on the board with a change of meeting times on Monday evenings.

A new member of the elected board that oversees Valley Medical Center faces an uncertain future on the board with a change of meeting times on Monday evenings.

The member, Anthony Hemstad, is the city manager for Maple Valley, running that city’s day-to-day operations. He was narrowly elected to the Public Hospital District 1 Board of Commissioners last fall.

Hemstad has been at the center of a months-long controversy over his ties to state Sen. Pam Roach, who contributed to his campaign and opposed a controversial annexation of a large area, including Maple Valley, to the hospital district.

Hemstad narrowly defeated longtime board member Carole Anderson in the November general election.

Until June 1, the board is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month. After June 1, the board will meet at 6 p.m., just an hour before the Maple Valley City Council begins its meetings.

It’s unlikely that either the hospital board or the council will change their meeting time or date to accommodate Hemstad’s schedule.

Now, he must decide how he will juggle the responsibilities of running a city and overseeing a major public hospital. He was still considering his options this week. He wasn’t ready to answer the question: Will you resign from the hospital board?

“I really need to digest this more,” he said.

However, he said he ran as a reform candidate to provide more oversight of board and hospital operations.

“While this journey hasn’t been enjoyable at all,” he said, “it would be unfair to citizens of (the district) for me to resign” just as he begins to fulfill his campaign promises.

But, he also said he needs to make a living in his full-time job as city manager.

He said changing the board meeting time is a “blatant” attempt to force him to resign, a sentiment shared by Maple Valley Mayor Laure Iddings.

The hospital board voted 3-2 on Monday to change its meeting time after a tense debate between Hemstad and other members of the board.

Hemstad’s proposal to hold the board meetings the first and third Tuesdays of the month failed.

The board has met at 3:30 p.m. Mondays since January 1996. For many years prior to that, it met two Thursdays a month at 7:30 a.m. That early start also raised concerns that the public didn’t have a chance to attend board meetings.

Board chairman Don Jacobson said the board isn’t trying to force Hemstad to resign. It was Hemstad, he said, who proposed that the board move its meetings to the evening.

Jacobson said it would be up to the City Council to change its meeting date or time.

“We aren’t creating the conflict,” Jacobson said in an interview. “He (Hemstad) made the conflict.”

Part of Hemstad’s reform platform was to move the board’s meetings to the evening, in order to give the public a greater opportunity to observe and comment on the board’s actions.

Although not specified in his reform plan, Hemstad made it clear to the board on several occasions that a Monday night meeting wouldn’t work for him.

Asked whether the City Council would change its meeting date and time to accommodate the new board schedule, Iddings answered with a question: “Why would we do that?”

She pointed out the council meets in space borrowed from the Tahoma School District. It’s used by the Tahoma School Board on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month and other community organizations on other nights of the week, she said.

“This isn’t an issue for Maple Valley,” Iddings said, adding it’s up to the hospital board to “take care” of its elected officials. “And shame of them if they are not,” she said.

With the hospital board’s meeting-schedule change effective on June 1, Jacobson said Hemstad has a month to find a solution. Changing the Maple Valley council date is “a reasonable solution,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson is worried that the media reports over the board controversy will make it harder to recruit physicians and nurses for the hospital. He said the four other members of the board are committed to their jobs and the hospital district.

“I don’t think the board is dysfunctional. “We have a dysfunctional member,” said Jacobson, who was the subject recently of an unsuccessful recall effort by a citizen.

Hemstad said he has been outspoken about his concerns over hospital and board operations, and that the answer is to not stop people from talking about those concerns. That, he said, “is the antithesis of open government.”

The other commissioners are businessman Mike Miller, Sue Bowman, who was elected last fall, and Carolyn Parnell, who is involved with several community organizations.

The hospital district, the oldest and largest in Washington, includes Covington, an area of King County near Maple Valley, Renton, Kent and the south Bellevue area.

Valley Medical Center is in Renton. The organization also operates several clinics, including ones in Covington and Maple Valley.