Officials of a county-owned hospital in a Seattle suburb have agreed to personally pay nearly $300,000 in penalties and reimbursement for spending taxpayer money on ballot measures aimed at raising the hospitals revenue.
Valley Medical Center, Renton, Wash., paid $478,249 for consulting, surveys and informational mailings related to special elections in 2005 and 2006, according to an agreement between Chief Executive Officer Rich Roodman and the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. In a separate agreement, Barbara Mitchell, the hospitals administrator for organizational development, admitted she unintentionally approved payments totaling $18,832 for printing, postage and handling of postcards encouraging residents to vote yes on a tax increase.
The results at the ballot box were mixed. A successful 2005 measure raised the hospital districts levy rate. In 2006, the voters declined the hospitals bid to annex surrounding neighborhoods they believed were relying on the 169-bed hospital but not sharing the tax burden to support it.
We made inadvertent but honest mistakes, Roodman said in a memo distributed last week to the hospitals staff.
Mitchell, in an interview, said the inappropriate expenditures were so sizeable because officials believed that the informational mailings and surveys were within the legal bounds of communicating with the community. "We weren't aware there was even a question," Mitchell said. "It wasn't as though we thought we were walking into a gray area."
A spokeswoman for the commission, which enforces Washingtons campaign-finance laws, said Roodmans penalty of $195,000$75,000 of which is suspended pending further violationsis significantly higher than any previous amount paid to settle allegations of using public funds for campaign purposes. -- by Gregg Blesch
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