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June 19, 2007

State says Valley Hospital misspent taxpayer money

Posted by David Postman at 8:54 AM

An investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission says the Valley Medical Center in Renton illegally spent taxpayer dollars on campaign expenses.

The PDC staff report says the public hospital misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money on its 2006 annexation campaign. The hospital wanted to annex areas of South King County to put an additional 25,000 households into Public Hospital District No. 1.

Among the allegedly illegal expenditures was the use of taxpayer money for campaign focus groups that asked questions such as what color the hospital should use for its campaign signs.

KING 5's Robert Mak covered the case on his Sunday show. He says:

The state calls it the biggest misuse of taxpayer money in the history of Washington elections.

The PDC has all the documents on its Web site.

The case began with a complaint from Maple Valley Mayor Laure Iddings, an opponent of the annexation. She became alarmed after a telephone pollster called her as part of the hospital campaign. One of the questions was about what her opinion was of Mayor Laure Iddings.

The PDC staff has prepared administrative charges against two hospital executives, President and CEO Rich Roodman and Barbara Mitchell, administrator for organizational development.

Mitchell told Mak:

We feel very strongly that we not only communicated appropriately during those times but we really have an oblation to talk to folks in our community. ... Our underlying motivation in everything we did was to learn what the public wanted.

It didn't work. The election failed with a likely record of 94 percent voting no.

"In retrospect, we could have communicated our position better at the forefront," said Joyce Shaw, spokeswoman for the hospital. "There was some miscommunication that led to the issue turning from health care to taxation."

The commission will consider the charges at a future meeting.

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