A Republican scheme that sought to dissolve Pierce County’s joint health department arrangement with the City of Tacoma collapsed in spectacular fashion earlier this evening after erratic Councilmember Pam Roach (known for her “Who Moved My Flowers!?” speech) sided with several Democratic councilmembers and voted against the proposal, which she had originally sponsored.
Republican County Executive Bruce Dammeier’s office was behind the scheme. Dammeier reportedly wanted to dissolve the joint health department so that his administration could get the clock ticking on the creation of a standalone department that his pro-sprawl administration would have full control over.
The joint department dates back to 1972, when it was formed under an interlocal agreement between Pierce County and Tacoma, its largest constituent city.
With Democrats set to control the majority on the Pierce County Council for the first time in eons, Dammeier needed Republicans to sign off on his scheme, fast.
Dammeier’s plot hit a huge snag yesterday when Governor Jay Inslee used the authority given to him by the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) to issue an emergency proclamation barring public health departments like Tacoma’s and Pierce County’s from being dissolved during the current pandemic.
This move irked Roach, who suggested she was leaning towards voting against Dammeier but might vote yes anyway to spite Inslee.
However, in the end, after impassioned public testimony against the scheme, Roach opted to vote against the proposal, thereby killing it.
“Public input is a higher order than one-man one-vote. It was the right thing to do,” Roach told The News Tribune of Tacoma after the vote took place.
Roach’s nay vote makes the question of whether Pierce County could have successfully evaded Inslee’s proclamation moot. (Before the final vote, Republicans had amended the draft legislation to attempt to skate around the proclamation by starting the dissolution process after its expiration.)
The spectacular collapse of Dammeier’s scheme means that Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health is probably safe for the foreseeable future.
Prior to the vote, public health leaders had loudly protested Dammeier’s scheme, as had a large number of Pierce County residents.
“The timeline is so dated that it doesn’t allow anybody to participate in conversation and find out what’s going on community staff at the health department. Everybody is frustrated and feel blindsided,” Board of Health Chair and Tacoma Council member Catherine Ushk told The News Tribune.
“This would dismantle the independence of our health department. Changing it right now, it’s not just drastic, I think it’s irresponsible.”
We agree, and we’re thrilled this ill-conceived scheme has crashed and burned. The last thing Pierce County needed was for its cooperatively managed public health agency to be dismantled and placed under the control of Dammeier and his untrustworthy associates, including the recently defeated Steve O’Ban.
The outcome of this vote is a big victory for public health and safety in Washington’s second largest county, one we can all celebrate.
Rarely do we get the opportunity to thank or congratulate Pam Roach, who is one of Tim Eyman’s pals, but today, Roach has earned our thanks for belatedly slamming the brakes on this terrible idea. Thanks, Pam!