Hospital District candidates gear up for first forum

Commissioner candidates will speak from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the United Methodist Church.

(File Photo).

(File Photo).

Vashon-Maury islanders will get a chance tonight to meet and ask questions of the nine candidates running for hospital district board of commissioners.

The forum, hosted by the health care focus group of Indivisible Vashon and Vashon Unifying for Democracy, is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 10, at the United Methodist Church, 17928 Vashon Highway SW.

The candidates are: Bonny Olney, Erik Pryne, John Staczek, Bill West, Don Wolczko, Wendy Noble, Tom Langland, Dan Erin and LeeAnn Brown. Olney told The Beachcomber she cannot attend due to a previously scheduled commitment, but someone will read a statement for her at the forum. Bill Swartz will also not be sharing the stage with candidates because he is not running for commissioner, even though his name will appear on the ballot.

Only five out of the nine candidates could be elected to a hospital district board of commissioners, which would oversee the island’s health care services if Hospital District No. 5 is voted for by islanders. Neither the creation of a district or the board of commissions would create a physical hospital, as other districts in the state have done. Currently, the island’s health care is administered through a few private providers, including Seattle-based Neighborcare Health. The organization has said it has not made any decision or plans regarding the future of its Vashon clinic beyond election day.

Debby Jackson, the lead organizer of the event, told The Beachcomber the forum is not about the debate over whether or not there should be a hospital district. Rather, it’s about getting to know the candidates, their qualifications and priorities if elected.

A forum with the candidates can accomplish this because, Jackson said, because islanders will be asked on Nov. 5 both whether they want a hospital district or not and who they want elected to the hospital district board of commissioners.

“(If) the district is voted in, then we want the best candidates for the job. So it behooves people, even if they don’t want a district, to vote for the most qualified commissioners,” Jackson wrote in an email. “It is confusing for many — but that’s why it’s so important to have a forum to educate oneself about the candidates and get the ones that fit your vision of what the hospital district should look like.”

Kevin Jones, the founder of Indivisible Vashon and Vashon Unifying for Democracy, echoed Jackson’s comments, adding that neither group is taking a side on whether there should be a hospital district on the island.

Asked by The Beachcomber whether hosting a candidate forum could unintentionally give the impression to islanders that the groups are pro-hospital district, Jones responded that it is something they struggled with. Members decided, however, that they “cannot control unintended or erroneous interpretations of our intent”

“We would never do anything if we allowed our actions to be restricted by such a concern,” Jones wrote.

Before islanders will hear answers to their questions on Thursday, the forum will begin with remarks from the island’s representative to the Legislature, Joe Fitzgibbon, who will explain the state statute that allows the formation of hospital districts.

The candidates will each be given time for opening statements, which will be followed by rounds of questions delivered by Susan McCabe, the forum’s moderator, who formerly worked for Voice of Vashon.

The questions will come from those gathered prior to the forum by Indivisible Vashon and Vashon Unifying for Democracy; from attendees who submit questions in writing to organizers at the church prior to the event; and orally, by islanders who wish to ask questions to the candidates directly during the forum. A raffle will determine which audience members actually get to speak.

Doors to the United Methodist Church open at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to all.

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