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Style Over Science 

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ur health board gave public health officer Dr. Kim Thorburn a most negative evaluation, as most everyone in Spokane knows by now. She awaits perhaps the same fate as our former air quality officer, who was rewarded for removing us from the list of worst cities for air quality by being replaced with a person who apparently doesn't buy into all that global warming stuff. That's our kind of guy.


Anyway, seems that the board thinks that Dr. Thorburn is arrogant, doesn't communicate and ... dresses badly? "Unprofessional": Wasn't that what they said of her choice in attire?


Methinks that this bad evaluation says a whole lot more about the board than it does about Dr. Thorburn. Does the board think that a nice outfit from Nordstrom will be enough to beat back the bird flu? And as you recuperate from food poisoning from that iffy salad bar, you'll feel better knowing your public health officer loves the feel of cashmere.


About the silly clothes issue, I say that if the board is really serious, they owe Dr. Thorburn a standard, or at least an example, against which to have her "performance" measured. And where better to look for our example of acceptable dress than to the sartorial tastes of the board's longest-serving and most senior elected official, our resident "good ol' boy," Commissioner Phil Harris. It just so happens that Commissioner Harris attended a recent public event. I spotted him at the memorial service for Jim West, and can report that he showed up wearing -- no, it couldn't be -- a pineapple shirt? Something that might have been picked up in a beach dive off of Waikiki.


Perhaps the board has some recommendations on the proper fruit design.


The "arrogance" charge brings me back to a term I coined in a commentary I wrote for KPBX back in the fall of 1994: "Spokane Nice."


I wrote: "We are a friends and neighbors kind of place. Being a 'really nice' friend and neighbor counts for a lot. As a matter of fact, if you want to get elected to anything from Coroner to Chamber president [or, as I must insert here, maybe keep your job as public health officer], you have to be known as a 'really nice person."


But then I posed a question: "What if the 'nice candidate' is a boob?"


"Doesn't matter," I answered. "In Spokane 'really nice' beats 'smart and sharp' every time."


"Living the life of Mr. Spokane" -- that's how a friend described our most sought-after social station. "Mr. Spokane can be described as a thoroughly unobjectionable, typically deferential person who has no edges, doesn't appear to be too smart, never ruffles anyone's feathers, never takes issue with another's interest, nor ever has much to say about anything." I might add that the Spokane Nice person always suffers fools. He or she never exposes nor calls attention to ignorance and stupidity. Mr. Spokane personifies Spokane Nice.


Kim Thorburn obviously doesn't get it; she isn't "Spokane Nice."


I also think we're hearing money talking here. Have we ever had a sitting triumvirate of county commissioners so compromised by special interest campaign contributions? I can't think of a time. Gone is Mr. Environmentalist, John Roskelley. Gone is Ms. Independent Thinker, Kate McCaslin. Enter the homebuilders and land developers and yes, public employee unions, plus a bunch of small business types who vote for anyone who says he doesn't like government.


It goes something like this: One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy. "Hey, Mark [or Phil or Todd, doesn't matter], what the hell is that woman up to, threatening to shut me down like that? She says that I'm -- what was it -- 'unsanitary?' Who the hell does she think she is?"


Translation: She is arrogant and doesn't communicate.


Get the drift?





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ut all is not lost. Something good could come out of this latest episode in the continuing sit-com called: Why the Outside World Thinks Spokane Is Run by Really Dumb People. I say let's use this absurd evaluation to raise the broader question: Why have local health boards at all?


As written, the statutes aren't all that clear. Whereas the responsibilities of the public health officer are specified in detail and assume independence, the authority of the board is written so as to invite politicization of public health decision making. Specifically, how can the public health officer act independently and at the same time work under the "direction of the board" -- a group that has no clear mandate?


This long running doff of the hat to localism was, at one time, a logical response to time and space realities, limited technology and difficult logistics. But today, localism makes no sense at all -- that is, if public health is your objective. At the national level, way back in 1946, the Congress, in recognizing these changing circumstances, created the National Centers for Disease Control. Yet in Washington state, we continue to operate under a horse-and-buggy process that fails to address emerging statewide threats. You would think that the "War on Terrorism," if nothing, else would underscore this new reality. In these times, do we really want the good-ol'-boy commissioners and amateur part-time elected officials meddling, even at the margins? Would it not be in the public's interest to have all the Kim Thorburns of the state appointed by -- and responsible to -- the governor?


This wouldn't be the first time we have needed the state to save us from ourselves. It was the State Shoreline Management Act that saved us from the Lincoln Street Bridge. It was the State Growth Management Act that led to the Comprehensive Plan (although it's ignored by our present city administration).


Strip the health board of its authority, that's the least those people over in Olympia could do for us.
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