April 12, 1999
Evergreen Hospital's Board of Commissioners has been sued for violating the state Open Public Meetings Act. The suit, filed April 5 by CLEAN (Citizens for Leaders with Ethics and Accountability Now), seeks to nullify the public hospital district's contract with its chief executive officer, Andrew Fallat.
CLEAN is a non-profit, public watchdog group based in Tacoma. CLEAN executive director Sherry Bockwinkel discovered the board's hidden agenda item after attending an Evergreen board meeting last fall. She was there to investigate allegations of illegal collection of tax money by the hospital, from a 1983 levy.
Bockwinkel saw no mention of the CEO salary on the meeting's agenda and left when the board called a private executive session. Later, she obtained a copy of the minutes, containing the only record of what the board termed a "supplemental retirement agreement." The disputed contract passed by a 3-2 board decision.
Evergreen officials have declined comment on the suit, but have said Fallat's pay falls in a midrange scale of CEOs at similar local institutions. They have refused to reveal the comparitive figures, supplied by an independent consultant hired by Evergreen, because it contains some contract figures for executives of private hospitals.
"CLEAN had several anonymous tips on this," said CLEAN attorney Shawn Newman of Olympia. "The nurses and front-line staff were incensed, because they had recently suffered staffing cutbacks. Then this public employee gets paid three times more than the President and six times more than Washington's governor."
The contract gives Fallat a total annual package exceeding $600,000, including a 43 percent base pay raise. His yearly base pay rose from $223,000 to $360,000. His retirement package would pay 52 percent of his salary and incentive pay, or $243,360 a year. The suit does not name Fallat.
"You have a supposedly public servant who wants all the benefits of an entrepeneurial business CEO, but without the personal liabilities," said Newman. "The hospital district also paid Fallat's attorney fees for negotiating this contract for Fallat. Why should the public subsidize any agency that spends their money that way?"