We’ve all heard the old saying, right? “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
It’s a goofy way of saying perception can be as important as facts.
In their quest to set public health policy as members of the Board of Health, Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers and all three Yakima County commissioners find themselves with a perception problem — their emails regarding a competition among local high schools promoting teen COVID-19 vaccinations look suspiciously close to a violation of the state Open Public Meetings Act.
Copies of the emails — which the Yakima Herald-Republic obtained through a public records request — show Byers and County Commissioners Amanda McKinney, Ron Anderson and LaDon Linde pressured members of the health district staff to shut down the school competition.
Although the competition required parental approval for vaccinations, the mayor and commissioners argued that the vaccination drive was using peer pressure to force kids to get shots to protect them from contracting or spreading the deadly virus. Further, McKinney complained in a May 18 email to the health district staff, the competition was an overreach, since it didn’t come from the health board.
Keep in mind that this is the same group of four that two weeks ago voted to urge Interim Health Officer Dr. Larry Jecha to disregard state rules and federal health guidelines and no longer recommend mask-wearing for children. Jecha, an actual doctor, wisely declined to follow their wishes.
We can save the discussion of why Byers, McKinney, Anderson and Linde think they know more about pandemics and public health in general than formally trained health professionals. For now, the point is this:
Just a few days after McKinney’s May 18 email, a number of other emails pinged back and forth among her and other members of the health board. And on May 21, with no public meetings or hearings, the health district abruptly shut down the high school vaccination competition.
That’s where that pesky Open Public Meetings Act comes in.
When elected public officials conduct the public’s business in private emails rather than in forums accessible to the public, it can constitute a violation of state law.
We aren’t saying that’s what’s happened here. But Byers, McKinney, Anderson and Linde got the Yakima Health District to rescind a decision on public health without discussing it publicly.
Which brings us back to the original point about how even the perception of impropriety can wreak havoc on your credibility.
And right now, we hear a lot more quacking than thoughtful, responsible local leadership.