Key Award presented

— A state organization has given an award to Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle Publisher Roger Harnack for calling out Three Rivers Hospital’s violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.

Harnack received the Key Award on May 6 in Ellensburg from the Washington Coalition for Open Government. It was presented by Cynthia Mitchell, a journalism professor at Central Washington University and a coalition board member.

The Key Award is “given to individuals or groups who do something notable to advance the cause of open government,” according to the coalition.

In February, hospital commissioners separately reviewed 26 resumes for CEO candidates and shared their thoughts on each candidate. Board Chairwoman Vicki Orford used the information to winnow the field to the Top 5, the hospital told The Chronicle at the time.

Although the commissioners didn’t meet in person, conducting business individually that results in a decision being made – in this case, culling a list of candidates – is still a quorum under state law.

“After consulting with the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and with Nancy Krier, open government ombudsman for the state Attorney General’s office, Harnack told the board that the state Open Public Meetings Act requires elected officials to take such action in public,” the coalition said. “Subsequently the district board backed down and conducted a properly announced public meeting to rank the candidates.”

“I’m honored to receive such a prestigious award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government,” Harnack said. “But as the editor and publisher of The Chronicle, it’s my duty to make sure public officials obey public meetings and records laws, and hold them accountable for violations. It’s important to lift the veil of secrecy so taxpayers can better manage their elected officials and public employees.”

The Washington Coalition for Open Government is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that advocates for the people’s right to access government information and for the principle that transparency and public participation are building blocks of good government.


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