EDITORIAL | Public deserved more from hospital board

Whidbey General Hospital commissioners faced a tough decision Monday when they moved to sell undeveloped property in Bayview that was purchased by a past board years ago at a highly inflated price, and without an appraisal.

Should they hold onto land that no longer fits the hospital’s long-range plans in the vain hope that one day its value — $595,000 in 2013 — will match the 2008 purchase price of $2 million, or sell now in an attempt to recoup some of that investment?

The decision to move on, perhaps, was the best one. The attitude of board members regarding the issue, however, was not.

The decision will likely result in the loss of more than $1 million, and not a single commissioner expressed responsibility or remorse for the waste of taxpayer dollars. Instead, board President Anne Tarrant said the decision to buy the property was made by a past board and that the purchase price was a reflection of the market at the time.

Such comments are highly disappointing. Yes, the choice was made by a past body, and yes, property values were at a peak in 2007/2008. But no matter who made the decision or why, the fact remains that taxpayer dollars will be lost. As elected officials, commissioners represent the hospital and a measure of accountability is expected and deserved.

An apology and a promise to be better stewards of the taxpayers dime would have been something, though a commitment to consider safeguards to avoid future losses would have been better.

Washington laws currently require public agencies to get three appraisals when selling property, but they are not mandated to get even one when purchasing land. Ultimately what that means is public assets are protected by statute from being given away by decision makers in power, but that there is no protection to keep those same government officials from spending too much.

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said the existing laws warrant consideration and possibly legislative action. And the South Whidbey Record has editorialized the need for the hospital to look at crafting an internal policy to govern future land purchases. Both make sense, at the very least, and merit discussion.

But there was no such discussion during Monday’s hospital meeting, indeed not a peep. The decision to sell was the right one, but when it came to accountability what the public got was an excuse that amounted to “Oh well, it wasn’t our fault so let’s move on.”

At a time when the public just agreed to entrust $50 million to the hospital for a much-needed expansion, such disregard for the waste of tax dollars is disconcerting at best.

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