Teachers strike in Tacoma, September 2011
Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

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!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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