On Tuesday, I did something I have never done in my 18 years in elected office: I excused myself and left a Council meeting.
It was not a decision I made lightly and I’d like to share why.
Ordinance 2020-136 was before Council and proposed terminating a nearly 50-year-old agreement with the city of Tacoma that provides fiscal oversight and contributions from both governments, as well as policy decisions, for a joint city-county run public health department.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department runs independently, and its policies are based on science and not politics. It is overseen by a Board of Health made up of representatives from the County Council, Tacoma City Council, one mayor from the Small Cities and Towns organization, and a doctor chosen by Pierce County Medical Society. In the more than 10 years I served on the board I found all board members had a strong interest in public health. Ordinance 2020-136 proposed ending that agreement, placing the health department under the jurisdiction of the County Executive, making the County Council the Board of Health and cut out Tacoma’s financial contribution of $1.7million.
There are many reasons why I oppose this, and had I remained at the meeting, I would have voted against it.
The ordinance was introduced two weeks ago without study, research or time to discuss and debate. It removed the independence of the health department that would result in deference and reliance on elected officials’ opinions and beliefs, and not necessarily on science. It placed politicians solely in charge of making health decisions. Finally, the health department is not broken. What exactly were we trying to fix?
So why did I leave? The day before the vote, Governor Jay Inslee released a proclamation “Safeguarding Public Trust and Stability in Local Health Jurisdictions”. His intent was to ensure continued delivery of health services during the pandemic. His language is quite strong, saying he prohibited any entity with an interlocal agreement “from taking any action, … to terminate or commence or advance the legal process for termination and any agreement to operate a combined city and county health department or to withdraw or commence or advance the legal process for withdrawal from membership in any health district.” (Emphasis added.) He added criminal penalties to violation of the order. The order is in effect until the end of this pandemic, or until it is amended or rescinded.
What resonated with me is the “taking action” terminology. This ordinance should have been stricken from the agenda. Keeping this ordinance on the agenda allowed action to be taken, which is counter to the Governor’s proclamation. I believe that proceeding and voting was an illegal action. I am not willing to be a party to illegal action, nor place the County at risk of criminal and possibly civil offenses and penalties.
I strongly believe that I must follow the law, which is why I left the meeting and thus supported the Governor’s proclamation.