Hospital commissioners affirm CEO search process

— Three Rivers Hospital commissioners are standing behind their CEO selection process, despite concerns they may have violated the Open Public Meetings Act.

In a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, the board approved a resolution that outlines the process, which was also used in 2011 to hire current CEO O.E. “Bud” Hufnagel.

The resolution comes after the board already acted to winnow a list of applicants from 26 to five without following provisions of the state Open Public Meetings Act, which requires that action be done in a public meeting.

Revised Code of Washington 42.30.60 says, “No governing body of a public agency at any meeting required to be open to the public shall vote by secret ballot. Any vote taken in violation of this subsection shall be null and void, and shall be considered an ‘action’ under this chapter.”

A previous public meeting never occurred, although hospital commissioners all weighed in on the selection process by providing input outside of the public eye to hospital board Chairwoman Vicki Orford.

“It’s basically to confirm how we’ve done the selection process so far,” Orford said.

Hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Meadows said commissioners reviewed the resumes on hospital grounds, either individually or two at a time, and “wrote their thoughts” down on a cover sheet attached to each resume. Orford then reviewed those comments and culled the list of candidates from 26 to five.

State Assistant Attorney General for Open Government Nancy Krier said she spoke to Hufnagel on Wednesday and advised the hospital to “take a step back.”

“My understanding is they’ve gone on the record to say what process they’re going to use… and I did speak with Mr. Hufnagel this afternoon to talk about hitting the pause button on this and going back a little bit and redoing some of the steps, so the steps can be followed in the open public meeting process,” she said. “They were kind of a little cart before the horse there.”

Krier said she recommended the hospital allow more public discussion on how to proceed with the selection process, then narrow the field in a public meeting in compliance with the law, which did not happen.

“What I suggested is that they also hit the pause button on the winnowing process in that they have that conversation about the winnowing in public,” she said, noting the hospital would not have to release the candidates’ names in doing so.

“I think they’re rethinking the process and looking for more opportunity to have decisions made in public. That’s where I left things with (Hufnagel).”

However, commissioners plan to go ahead with the Top 5 candidates’ telephone interviews at 7 a.m. today in the Hillcrest administration building, 415 Hospital Way.

The resolution approved after the fact included the following steps:

  1. The current CEO will determine a central location to store resumes and applications.
  2. A cover sheet including space for commissioner comments will be included with each resume.
  3. The CEO will determine if candidates meet minimum qualifications and note that on the cover sheets.
  4. Once each commissioner has left comments, the chairwoman will deliver them to the CEO, who will schedule telephone interviews with the Top 5 candidates. Those interviews will include the commissioners, a committee of two medical staff and two community members. The committee comprises of Dr. Gordon Tagge, Dr. James Wallace and residents Michael Zoretic and Al Hymer.
  5. Ccommissioners will review results of the interviews in a meeting and select their Top 2 or 3 finalists for on-site interviews.
  6. The finalists will be interviewed in a meeting, followed by a final decision.

Commissioner Mike Pruett. It said: “Each commissioner will rank the candidates based upon their review of the resumes.”

Bill Will, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association said: “My interpretation of the law is that they have to make the determination to narrow the field of candidates in an open public meeting.”

Without firsthand knowledge of the hospital’s actions so far, Krier said she couldn’t definitively say whether a violation of state law occurred.

The Chronicle, meanwhile, points to the provision of the law requiriing the winnowing process to be made in public, asserting the hospital board violated state law.

Chronicle Publisher Roger Harnack was preparing a formal protest of the actions to be filed with the board and state.

One step was stricken from the resolution at the recommendation of After the meeting, Orford maintained the process was “not polling,” a concern The Chronicle raised last Friday upon finding out the pool of candidates had already been narrowed outside of an open public meeting.

The hospital’s attorney, Edward Turner of the Spokane-based Stamper Rubens law firm, has not returned requests for comment.

The hospital has also declined to release the names of any of the applicants, including the five semi-finalists, citing the candidates’ request for privacy.

Under state law, a public agency is permitted to withhold the identities of its applicants, but it is not required.

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