New rules governing the Yakima Health District’s Board of Health remain in limbo.
During a special meeting Wednesday night, the health board tabled any decision on the controversial rules pending the fate of House Bill 1152, which could impact the composition of health boards statewide.
This is the second time issues over the new rules have been tabled.
However, the board did decide on a process of hiring the health district’s new health officer. The entire seven-member health board and health district staff will participate in candidate interviews.
There are six applicants for the health officer, including recently appointed health board member Dr. Dave Atteberry. He left the meeting during the discussions about how the hiring process would be conducted.
At issue are new rules Yakima County commissioners approved that give them more power on the health board. The health board has yet to adopt a resolution to incorporate the new rules.
Commissioners approved the new rules in an ordinance in early January. They set term limits on the health board and require it to be chaired by a commissioner who would be afforded two votes on matters. The new rules also designate commissioners as the nominating committees for appointments to the board and the hiring of the district’s health officer and executive director.
The health board is composed of the three county commissioners, two elected officials from area cities and two citizen members.
Commissioners said they approved the new rules because the health board wasn’t following proper procedures when dealing with expired terms. In December, three health board members whose terms had expired were allowed to vote to extend their terms for another month.
But the new rules have sparked controversy in the community and the health district. At a previous meeting, more than two dozen letters from residents criticizing the new rules were read.
The health district’s attorney, James Elliott, said commissioners have overstepped their authority with some of the rules, namely requiring the health board be chaired by a commissioner and that commissioners make up the nominating committee to hire health district officers.
Yakima County Prosecutor Joe Brusic disagreed in a previous meeting, arguing that commissioners are the originating body of health boards, and that several health boards across the state are solely composed of commissioners.
Some members of the health board want written clarification from commissioners on their intent behind affording the chairperson two votes.
Commissioners have said the two votes would only be exercised in the event of a tie on the seven-member board.
Now the health board is awaiting the fate of HB 1152 before making any decision on the new rules. The bill, which supports measures to create comprehensive public health districts, has undergone changes. It could limit the composition of health boards to six members, which would increase the likelihood of a tie when voting on issues.
Health board members said they’d rather wait and finalize any ordinance and resolution once rather than having to make changes that HB 1152 potentially could foster.