Concerns over hospital CEO selection process prompt special meeting

— After state officials said Three Rivers Hospital commissioners likely violated the state open meetings law in culling its list of CEO candidates, a special meeting has been set for tomorrow afternoon.

The 2 p.m. meeting to discuss the selection process for a new CEO will be open to the public at the Hillcrest administration building, 415 Hospital Way. Phone interviews with the Top 5 candidates are still slated to begin at 7 a.m. Thursday in the same place, spokeswoman Rebecca Meadows said.

At the meeting, the board is expected to discuss the selection process. However, the announcement didn't include any notice of an executive session.

Board Chairwoman Vicki Orford could not be reached for comment.

The meeting comes after more than a day of challenges by Chronicle staff on the legality of the selection process.

Commissioners – either individually or two at a time – visited the hospital to review the 26 resumes and “wrote down their thoughts” on a cover sheet for each candidate, Meadows said, noting Orford came in on her own at a later time and narrowed the pool down to five.

The Chronicle called that a meeting by polling and prepared Tuesday morning to lodge a formal protest of the action. The newspaper, which went to press prior to the special meeting announcement, also reached out to state officials and the hospital's attorney.

In the print edition of The Chronicle, the newspaper reported the actions leading up to the challenge and took the hospital board to task in an editorial.

"This is clearly a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act," Publisher Roger Harnack said.

Harnack spoke with the board's contract attorney, Edward Turner of Stamper Rubens law firm in Spokane, early Tuesday.

Harnack asked the attorney to direct the board to restart the winnowing process within the guidelines of state law.

Deputy State Attorney General General Nancy Krier, the state’s open government ombudsman, said there are “legitimate” concerns relating to the process, which is governed by the Open Public Meetings Act.

“The courts have said … the decision to narrow the field of candidates can’t occur in a straw vote” outside of the public eye, she said.

Thursday’s interviews are open to the public. Orford will ask questions of each candidate on behalf of the board, Meadows said.

The interviews are scheduled to wrap up at about 11:45 a.m., at which point the board will go into executive session to review the qualifications. The executive session is for 45 minutes, although the commissioners can extend that time if needed.

Any decisions in narrowing the field further – the board hopes to decide on two or three candidates – will be made in the open public meeting, Meadows said.

The hospital declined to release the names of the candidates, citing requests from the candidates themselves that their identities be kept private.

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