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Local
Incoming Central Washington State Fair CEO dismissed from job in California
 Tammy Ayer  / 
 10.29.19

The incoming Central Washington State Fair president and CEO has been dismissed from her job in Southern California.

Kathy Kramer is no longer CEO of the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., her role for five years, according to a news release from the board of directors.

“The 32nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which operates the OC Fair & Event Center, announced (Monday) that the Board had voted to dismiss CEO Kathy Kramer, effective immediately,” the release said.

Kramer is the replacement for Central Washington State Fair President and CEO Greg Stewart, who is retiring Dec. 31 after 48 years.

Responding to emailed questions, OC Fair and Event Center spokesperson Terry Moore declined comment on Kramer’s dismissal and anything related to that because they are personnel matters. Kramer could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this month, the Central Washington Fair Association board of directors said Kramer would assume Stewart’s role and would take over the position Feb. 1, 2020. Planning is already underway for next year’s fair, set for Sept. 25 through Oct. 4.

“We are excited to have Kathy bring her experience, talents and enthusiasm to our fair and to State Fair Park,” Dave Hargreaves, fair association board chairman, said in an Oct. 15 news release announcing her hiring in Yakima.

Hargreaves could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Central Washington State Fair board members issued a statement stressing that OC Fair board members knew she was seeking another job.

“The Central Washington Fair Association Board of Directors was in discussion with Ms. Kramer about the job as the new CEO and president of the Central Washington State Fair in September,” the statement said. “At that time she advised the Board Directors at the OC Fair of her need to step down in January of 2020 and was anticipating a smooth transition of her role as CEO.”

Because Kramer was dismissed from her job in Southern California, it’s possible she might begin her new role in Yakima earlier, fair spokesman Rob Phillips said.

“I know she was up here at one point looking for housing,” he said.

Kramer has been the center of some controversy in the past few years as detailed in numerous media stories in Orange County. A Voice of OC story published Friday centered on two meetings of fair board directors last week, which Kramer did not attend.

The news website earlier reported that Kramer sat on the fundraising board for Vanguard University, a private Christian college nearby, while the fair agency gave state dollars to the school.

The media organization also reported earlier this year the OC Fair planned to increase contract oversight and accountability in the wake of a critical 2016 fairgrounds audit. Moore, the fair’s spokesperson, said the matter was resolved to the board’s satisfaction.

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Fair officials in Yakima were aware of those situations, Phillips said.

“The fair board has totally vetted her and was aware of all these issues in advance,” he said. “They’re totally comfortable and OK with her explanation of what happened.”

Board members still have to replace Greg Lybeck, who began his new role Oct. 1 as the first executive director of nonprofit Sozo Sports of Central Washington.

Lybeck had more than 26 years of experience as assistant general manager at State Fair Park, where he was in charge of all non-fair events in the SunDome and around the grounds.


News
Yakima County service providers, police and judges embrace mental health sales tax
 Phil Ferolito  / 
 10.30.19

Yakima County commissioners took a step toward addressing homelessness Tuesday.

Commissioners approved a countywide mental health sales tax of 0.1 percent, which takes effect in April and is expected to generate $3.5 million annually. Tuesday’s 3-0 vote drew applause from the crowd.

The tax can be used to provide mental health and substance abuse services, including the construction or remodeling of facilities needed to deliver those services.

Service providers, police, prosecutors and Yakima County Superior Court judges crowded into Tuesday morning’s meeting at City Hall to voice support for the tax and the need for the services it’s intended to support.

County officials and service providers presented statistics showing that more than 50 percent of inmates repeatedly return to jail within three years, in part because many of them struggle with mental illness.

Ed Campbell, director of corrections, echoed the sentiment from judges and police that mental health and substance abuse problems are driving up recidivism at the jail, as well as law enforcement and criminal justice costs.

Many of those cycling through the system are homeless.

“We know what we’re doing doesn’t work,” Campbell said. “I wholeheartedly believe it will have impact on the community at large and I ask you to approve this tax.”

The county’s Pacific Avenue jail and its 10-acre site is at the center of a new project commissioners are calling Yakima County Care Campus that the tax will help fund.

Their intent is to convert that jail and a neighboring storage facility into a permanent homeless shelter, offices providing mental health and substance abuse services, and long-term and permanent housing.

The first phase of the project will be the conversion of an 8,000-square-foot storage facility that had recently been reroofed into a permanent homeless shelter to house more than 100 people, Commissioner Mike Leita said.

That shelter will replace Camp Hope, a temporary shelter behind the former Kmart near East Nob Hill Boulevard and Interstate 82. There, more than 100 people are sleeping in military tents.

The shelter is expected to be completed in June, he said.

“We will no longer have a temporary site,” Leita said. “We will no longer have tents on our site. We will have adequate sewer and plumbing.”

Next, the county will begin remodeling two pods at the jail into offices where services will be provided. The hope is to fully transition the jail into the care campus by 2026, Leita said.

Two mental health programs for competency restoration services will continue to operate at the jail after the transition. The county has two state contracts to house mental health patients in two pods of the 288-bed jail. Those pods have been remodeled to serve patients rather than house inmates.

The jail, a $25 million structure, was outfitted with an X-ray room and medical offices, Leita said.

Eventually, transitional and permanent housing will be built on the site, he said.

The county’s department of corrections will oversee the campus, providing security.

But it’s too early to tell what the finished project will look like or how much it will cost, Leita said.

The county has funds to begin the project. Commissioners last year had set aside $300,000 in local homeless funds that can be used for capital projects.

There’s another $1 million in the homeless reserve fund that also can be tapped, and revenue from the mental health tax will begin hitting county coffers in May, Leita said.

Finally, the county intends to apply for state funding the Legislature promised for capital projects providing mental health services.

“So that’s a fourth funding source we believe we’ll be successful in bringing into this transitional phase.” Leita said.

The homeless shelter is one component of the overall project. Providing additional services and long-term housing to help people put their lives back together is the end goal, he said.

“We haven’t got that far yet in our concepts, but I conceive we could have the Yakima Health District providing service or the Pacific Northwest University or some other provider providing services there,” Leita said.

Camp Hope director Mike Kay embraced the idea.

He told commissioners that there are more people suffering mental illness in our area than statistics reflect.

“The number of mentally ill people we deal with at Camp Hope is greater than the numbers you have here,” he said. “We slept 140 people at Camp Hope last night.”

He urged service providers and others to understand that homeless people need to be treated with love in order to make a difference.

“The big thing I want to reiterate is the relationship model,” he said. “A lot of these people coming into Camp Hope are from broken relationships.”


Local
Yakima Humane Society loses executive director, medical director in series of changes
 Janelle Retka  / 
 10.29.19

The Yakima Humane Society’s executive director is leaving.

Charles Stanton will no longer be the head of the organization effective Tuesday. He will remain at the humane society for the next couple of weeks during a transition to new leadership, according to a news release.

Several months ago, Stanton said he proposed a plan to the humane society board that called for leadership restructuring.

“The plan included a senior management restructure for the organization in hopes of reallocating funding where I saw the most significant need,” he said, declining to provide specifics.

“It has been and is my personal hope that my resignation will allow my salary to be reallocated to provide increased pay to the dedicated animal care staff and to provide necessary resources in other areas,” he said. “I cannot speak to whether or not that plan will be executed but I remain hopeful.”

He referred further questions about the potential restructuring to the board.

YHS board president Ryan Moore confirmed that the board was evaluating the organization’s division of responsibility “to ensure we are running at maximum efficiency.” He said minimal staffing changes were expected, with most being reassignments of roles. The news release said “a position announcement would follow later this week.”

Moore said YHS’ pet adoption center was running as usual and that its former director, Patsy Dye, was overseeing operations during the transitional period.

In regard to volunteers, Moore said they were “one of the core pieces” of the organization. “Their work will not be negatively impacted in any way, and we hope in the near future to expand and improve our volunteer program,” he said.

Stanton took the helm at the local animal welfare organization in July 2018. He worked with the board to streamline operations, reduce duplicative services and increase fundraising, according to the news release. Additionally, YHS signed contracts with several Yakima Valley cities to care for stray animals.

Spay and neuter clinic

Stanton’s resignation announcement comes after Medical Director Jennifer Fitzpatrick submitted her resignation last week to pursue another job offer. The board did not accept her notice, and removed her from her position on Monday, she said.

Fitzpatrick had been the veterinarian overseeing the Yakima Humane Society Spay & Neuter Clinic, where more than 18,000 spay and neuter procedures had been performed in the past three years. Washington has long suffered an overpopulation of dogs and cats, leading to efforts over the past decade to bolster spay and neuter options to avoid unnecessary euthanasia.

“I am thrilled with the great work that has been accomplished,” she said, adding that she hoped the program would continue. “It has been an honor to help take care of the animals and the people of this community.”

She said she submitted her resignation last week to pursue a job offer at the Maui Humane Society and had given a “lengthy notice” of her departure in early December.

“My goal was to be able to complete all of the surgeries that were previously scheduled” before departing, she said, adding that she completed an average of 30 surgeries a day, or roughly 150 a week.

Fitzpatrick said she did not know if there were other employees who could step in to conduct spay and neuter procedures in her absence.

Moore said the board was “reviewing the overall operations of the (spay and neuter) clinic,” declining to comment further.

Expansion

In the midst of these staffing changes, the organization has submitted plans to the city for a 3,400-square-foot expansion project, which would create additional kennel, retail, storage, meeting, exam and operating space. The city of Yakima planning division found it would not create significant adverse environmental impact. It is now in a 20-day public comment period ending on Nov. 4.

Asked if the project would be impacted by the organization’s operational changes, Moore said the project was in “the extremely preliminary stages” of discussion.

“There has been one option presented to us, but we are nowhere near approving or breaking ground on any proposed projects at this time,” he said.


Local
Astria Health employees laid off as organization consolidates
 Mai Hoang  / 
 10.29.19

Astria Health has laid off employees as it consolidates operations, the organization confirmed in an email Tuesday.

The Yakima Valley-based nonprofit health care organization, which is in bankruptcy protection, is in the process of moving to a “systemwide leadership and shared support services model” that would allow the hospital consolidate resources while expanding employee resources bedside, said Dawn O’Polka, chief marketing and communication executive in an email to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The company didn’t say how many employees were laid off or whether they received severance or other benefits.

Astria Health operates Astria Regional Medical Center in Yakima, Astria Toppenish Hospital and Astria Sunnyside Hospital. Several leadership positions will oversee employees from all three hospitals under the model, O’Polka wrote in her email.

“As is being experienced throughout the country, declining reimbursement and shifting patient needs (have) resulted in a need to reallocate resources,” O’Polka wrote.

Astria Health filed for bankruptcy protection in May. The hospital said a vendor was unable to collect patient revenue, leading to cash flow issues. The hospital has since switched vendors and aims to emerge out of bankruptcy by year’s end.

As part of the bankruptcy process, the court appointed Arizona attorney Susan N. Goodman as patient care ombudsman to monitor patient care.

In an Oct. 9 report on Yakima’s Astria Regional Medical Center, the largest of Astria Health’s three hospitals, Goodman noted “ongoing strain associated with staffing.”