A well-coordinated pandemic response is not the only casualty of the Pierce County Council Rules and Operations Committee’s recent vote to dismantle the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Open government also took a beating in the committee’s Dec. 7 public hearing. Despite an outpouring of opposition to a Pierce County takeover of the health agency, committee Chair Doug Richardson cut the public hearing short, showing utter disdain for resident participation in government decision-making.
Ninety people — including doctors, elected officials and ordinary citizens — signed up to testify. Only 29 of them had a chance to voice their concerns to their elected County Council members. Richardson halted testimony well before the end of the meeting.
Councilman Derek Young appealed Richardson’s decision to end the public hearing prematurely. In a raw display of hostility to democracy, Richardson and Councilman Dave Morell voted 2-1 to deny the appeal.
As Young said, “There was very little time for folks to speak up on this, and it only adds to the perception that there’s something improper going on here.”
Councilman Marty Campbell, who attended but could not vote as a non-committee member, said, “I was disappointed that we cut off public comment early.”
We are among the hundreds of Pierce County residents who wrote to the County Council in opposition to the health department takeover. Within days of unveiling the proposal, the County Council received more than 700 pages of correspondence from opponents. On Monday morning alone, Campbell received over 100 additional emails about it.
It is disheartening that, against this surge of impassioned public participation, the outgoing Republican majority of the County Council saw fit to quash resident involvement in its decision-making process. The hearing could have been continued to another day to allow for full public participation. The vote could have been delayed. Instead, Richardson and Morell turned away five dozen people who wanted to speak and forged ahead with a “do pass” recommendation.
Councilman Jim McCune emailed one constituent that the agency takeover “would require transparent discussions and public testimonies.” The fast-tracking of the proposal at the end of his term of office would seem to contradict that assertion.
A final County Council vote was scheduled for Tuesday. We implore the County Council to remember that they serve the people. If they don’t want to listen to the people, they do not belong in government.
George Wearn, Graham
Bud Rehberg, Spanaway
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