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Spokane County Commissioners push back at critics, saying new health board appointees meet requirements

Rebecca White
Rebecca White/SPR
The Spokane County Commissioners chose new members that will soon join the Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health.

Spokane County Commissioners voted to appoint three new members to the board that oversees public health in the county on Tuesday.

The new members include naturopathic doctor Alycia Policani and former Trump Housing and Urban Development appointee Chris Patterson, who was also an advisor to Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward on homelessness. Charlie Duranona, the outreach coordinator at Spokane’s VA hospital who is also a former staffer to Cathy McMorris Rodgers on veterans issues, was selected to fill the community stakeholder position.

They were chosen from among 29 candidates who applied to fill three slots, public health or healthcare provider, consumer of public health, and a stakeholder.

State law required county commissioners to reconfigure the board. Before voting Tuesday, Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns criticized the law’s prime sponsor, Marcus Riccelli, and said they were disappointed by the local press and the public’s reaction to their candidates.

“They fit the qualifications, they fit the categories they've been appointed to,” Kerns said. “Like commissioner French said, if you're unhappy with how the bill was drafted, which we are following to the tee, contact the people that drafted, that asked for the bill to be introduced, the governor, and the individual that prime sponsored the bill, Representative Marcus Riccelli."

Kerns argued the increased scrutiny could be discouraging to potential candidates for other boards and seats.

French argues the Spokane Regional Board of Health is a community board, not a medical one, and said commissioners followed the law. He pointed to other healthcare leadership structures in the Inland Northwest, such as Providence and MultiCares’ boards of directors, saying only a few medical doctors are members.

“There are those in the community and local media, that are accusing the commissioners of trying to manipulate the board, and remove medical professionals from it,” French said. “This assertion is simply not supported by the facts. In the last 50 years, the only medical professionals serving on the BOH were appointments from commissioner Kerns and myself, even though we are not required to do so.”

Riccelli says the commissioners followed the letter, but not the spirit of the law.

“I had hoped that our county commissioners would be able to loosen their grip on power and allow more expert and diverse perspective, and put our public health first, but unfortunately, once again they've chosen to consolidate power and spurn expertise,” Riccelli said. “I hope they reconsider and take a different course of action that will put people first and at the very least, they are making our lack of concern for the overall health of our community clear."

Riccelli says he is looking forward to a not-yet-appointed member to represent Native American communities, and says he anticipates more changes once new county commissioners are elected later this year. A new state law, also sponsored by Riccelli, forced the county commission to draw new district boundaries and expand to five members.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.