by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & et me see if I have this right: the state law clearly says that local health officers can be removed only after a hearing is held and a reason for removal given. However, the reason our health board gave for firing Dr. Kim Thorburn was... well, actually, they gave no reason at all. When an office holder is fired "without cause," as Dr. Thorburn was, the hiring authority must have determined it just no longer cares to work with the incumbent. We call this a non-reason reason.

One of the architects of Thorburn's non-reason reason removal, County Commissioner Todd Mielke, said something about wanting a more vibrant relationship between the board and the health officer. Maybe he didn't use that exact word. The point being, whatever word he used, it was irrelevant. He has revealed nothing about the basis for his non-reason reason. Or take City Councilwoman Mary Verner: She didn't shed any light on the matter either. She said that Dr. Thorburn didn't think that the board cared much about public health. That's it? If this was her actual reason, rather than her non-reason reason, couldn't we expect Verner to be a tad more specific? In any case, it's too late now for disclaimers from Verner or Mielke or from all the other go-alongs-get-alongs on the board who signed onto what is now an official non-reason reason firing.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ccording to the RCW, the health officer is required to take such action as is necessary to maintain health and sanitation supervision over the territory within his or her jurisdiction and to control and prevent the spread of any dangerous, contagious or infectious diseases that may occur within his or her jurisdiction. It falls to the health board to see to it that the health officer is doing her job, that she is taking those necessary actions. Failure to take these necessary actions would obviously constitute an actual reason for dismissal. But such apparently was not the case here.

After the vote of no confidence, we expected a shoe to drop. Surely the board would charge misfeasance, malfeasance -- some kind of -feasance. So how was Dr. Thorburn derelict? Turns out, she wasn't derelict at all, and we have that unanimous vote to fire her "without cause" to prove it. No going back on that. The record has been established. No cause.

But could there be other genuine reasons for dismissal? Actually, yes. Administrative incompetence, as distinct from medical incompetence, would also constitute a reason for dismissal. But, it turns out, Dr. Thorburn wasn't so charged nor did the board make any such mention. We can now assume that she was running her office in a competent manner. 

Lack of communication with the board has been mentioned. Could this be administrative incompetence?

Years ago, while serving on the board of a not-for-profit arts organization, I raised a dubious eyebrow when our president announced that that she had assigned another board member to examine "staff morale." I was not at all surprised when the report came back with bad news. The staff morale was bad. And why? Well, the broad member sniffed, apparently the staff doesn't realize that they have "22 bosses." Word for word, that's what she said. I spoke up: "Actually, they don't have 22 bosses, they have only one, the board." But there were 22 board members, I was reminded. I persisted to the chagrin of board members who apparently thought that meddling in staff matters came as a kind of board perk. "The board makes policy," I continued, "the staff executes policy; and other than making and overseeing the execution of policy as a board, members aren't any different than anyone else."

So was that it? Did Dr. Thorburn's fail to understand that she had 12 bosses?

Giving the board every benefit of the doubt let us assume that pettiness can't explain the firing decision. But if not pettiness, then what? Could it be that the board is using the term "communication problems" as a euphemism? What if the truth of the matter is that the problem wasn't that Thorburn ignored all the board members, but only some of them -- I refer to board members seeking special pleading for constituents who had managed to parlay privileged access. Evidence certainly feeds such a suspicion. The all-too-cozy relationships that our three sitting county commissioners have with the business community are well known, even advertised. And this whole thing started, apparently, because some coffee huts lobbied the county commissioners to get out of having to comply with new state laws regulating their sanitation practices

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ecause the board hasn't come clean, we are left to speculate. If it can be shown that Kim Thorburn was fired because she would not be party to acts of shilling for businesses seeking special favors, then we have a real scandal, do we not?

In any case, our deservedly besieged health board would seem to be in a bind. On the one hand, they are left to rationalize their decision: How can they defend a non-reason reason without exposing the potentially ugly truth behind the decision? On the other hand, unless they address the issue forthrightly, with reference to lingering suspicions, they risk continued erosion of public confidence.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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