Our Voice: Kennewick hospital board -- Briggs and Malson

October 18, 2013 

Trios Health, formerly known as Kennewick General Hospital, will be opening the doors to its new facility next year. It has been a long time in coming, and members of the Kennewick Public Hospital board rightfully can feel possessive of their achievement.

Two of the seats on that board are up for election and voters need to decide if they are pleased with the direction the board is taking and decide who is best prepared to lead the board from here.

Briggs v. Fehr

It will be on some people's minds, so in full disclosure we remind readers that Wanda Briggs was a long-time reporter at the Herald and that her husband, former Herald publisher Jack Briggs, sat on this editorial board until last year.

Several of us have a personal relationship with her.

That history aside, Briggs is far more prepared than her opponent for this position.

Rick Fehr is retired military and a former corrections official at the Coyote Ridge prison. He is a cancer survivor and is on an armored-car crew that fills ATM machines.

He is a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and describes that as his motivation to run for office.

But when asked specifically, he is not critical of the board's decision on how to finance the new hospital, although he would hate to see the burden fall on taxpayers in the future. That's something no one wants to see, but it's a shaky platform to build a campaign on.

He's a nice guy, but unprepared to serve on the hospital board.

Briggs has been on the board since she was appointed in 1998. She's be elected to the position ever since, but this is the first time she has faced a challenger.

During her tenure, voters rejected a tax increase to build a new hospital and the board found an alternative way to pay for it. The new hospital is under construction at Southridge, without any additional taxes. The board has recruited new doctors and established specialty services.

Briggs has been a major player on the board. She is well prepared to lead it into the future. In her words, "I want the opportunity to finish what I started."

In Fehr's words, "No one should run unopposed, even if all my campaign does is to bring out the best in Wanda's campaign."

We agree that public officials need challengers. Thanks, Rick, for taking on a job that nobody has wanted to do for 15 years -- forcing Wanda to remind us of why she's the better candidate in this race.

Reil v. Malson

Rick Reil is not an old man. As he pointed out to us, at 61 he is the second youngest member of the hospital board. However, his 30 years on the board make him the senior member. He holds a lot of institutional knowledge.

In some of the races we're making recommendations for this season, institutional memory has been enough to win our support, especially for experienced candidates running against unprepared or moderately prepared challengers.

Reil's opponent is neither.

Erik Malson is well prepared and, having served on the KGH Foundation for the past eight years, has quite a bit of institutional memory himself. He has a background in finance and works on projects much bigger than the new Southridge hospital.

Reil is a successful business owner and long-time community member.

Philosophically, these candidates do not differ a great deal from each other. Both probably would serve well on the board. But voters only can mark one box.

Our recommendation goes to Malson.

The tipping point for us is that Reil is endorsing Rick Fehr. That's a concern (see above).

Reil says his motivation in doing so is that the board is aging. He says in the next six years, four of the board members will be in their 80s. He doesn't want the board to lose its continuity over the next few election cycles.

He convinced us. But it's a better argument for his 42-year-old challenger than for Reil.

Reil's longevity on the board is impressive, but 30 years is a long time to sit on the same board. It's time for someone new on the board to learn the ropes.

Malson seems particularly well suited to help steer policy as the hospital district takes on the $112 million debt of its new facility at Southridge. Malson has a master's degree in business administration from Rutgers University in New Jersey, with additional studies in finance, accounting, business law and government politics. His work experience includes capital analyst, senior analyst, and mortgage advisor.

With an $800,000 monthly payment on the Southridge facility, financial acumen on the board is crucial.

The Tri-City Herald recommends Wanda Briggs and Erik Malson for the Kennewick Public Hospital board.

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