EAST WENATCHEE — Chief administrator Barry Kling departs tomorrow as head of the Chelan-Douglas Health District, under an agreement that prohibits him from suing or disparaging the two-county board he answered to for 17 years.
Kling and board vice chair Dan Sutton signed the agreement Friday, and it was ratified by the eight-member Chelan-Douglas Board of Health. Under the document, obtained by NCWLIFE through a public records request, Kling’s last day as administrator is July 1, though he’ll remain employed and collect payment for unused vacation and comp time through Oct. 31.
Bruce Buckles, director of Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington, will lead the district as interim administrator
Kling, who as of 2017 earned about $94,000, has managed the Chelan-Douglas Health District since 2003. But tensions arose between the administrator and his Board of Health over how to approach the COVID-19 health crisis, which as of today has yielded 574 confirmed cases and nine deaths in the Wenatchee Valley.
Records show Kling told the board in writing on June 21 of his decision to retire. That came after a June 15 board meeting in which he criticized boardmembers’ involvement in a lawsuit to overturn Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide emergency declarations related to the coronavirus pandemic.
In that suit, which failed June 24 to win a restraining order from a Chelan County judge, 46 plaintiffs claimed Inslee’s emergency orders were unlawful and unnecessarily harmful to local businesses. Douglas County Commissioners Dan Sutton and Marc Straub and Wenatchee City Councilmember Ruth Esparza, all members of the Board of Health, were originally plaintiffs, but withdrew before Judge Kristin Ferrera threw out the case last week.
Kling told the board, “The whole entanglement of us, as individuals or otherwise with (the lawsuit), has interfered with our ability to manage the COVID response, and the rest of the health district.”
A further controversy erupted when Slidewaters, the popular Lake Chelan water park, opted to reopen for business June 20 despite Inslee’s Safe Start protocol, which sets public health goals counties must meet as they move through phased reopening. Chelan and Douglas counties remain in a “modified” Phase 1; pools and waterparks are banned from operation until their home counties are in Phase 3.
Slidewaters owners Burke and Robert Bordner cited an approved safety inspection from the health district as basis for opening. Kling said the park had misinterpreted the inspection certificate, and the state’s emergency rules still barred the park from opening. The Bordners called that “a lie from an administrator trying to cover up the poor management of the CDHD.”
Under the retirement agreement, Kling waives all right to sue the health district for employment-related claims including discrimination and wrongful termination. He and the district also agree not to “disparage” each other in public comments.