This might be the 21st century, but in the Columbia-Pacific region, we are relearning one of the oldest lessons.

Washington state auditors have told the board of directors of Ocean Beach Hospital in Ilwaco that its failure to take action led to financial disaster. About one year ago, directors of the Sunset Empire Transportation District’s failure to spot misfeasance and take action cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars and its riders suffered abandoned routes. Two weeks ago, the transit district’s former executive director was indicted for theft and official misconduct.

One doesn’t have to reach much further back – into the last years of the 20th century – to find another board of directors that failed to pay attention to its hired executive’s misfeasance. The Port of Astoria’s adventure has cost taxpayers roughly $1 million.

We ask a lot from people who serve on government boards. They oversee complex enterprises, and they must run for election to get the job. Citizens seek these board positions for various reasons. It’s safe to say that very few join such a board to look for trouble. But in a real sense it is essential that someone on a board such as Ocean Beach Hospital, the Sunset transit district or the Port of Astoria becomes the house skeptic.

Do we need more evidence that bad and expensive things happen when no one in charge is skeptical?

Washington auditors were blunt in their finding that “the (hospital) District Board did not take action to cut expenses in relation to the decrease in revenues when actual revenues did not meet budgeted revenues.”

The larger question that is looming for Ocean Beach Hospital is what it will become. Can it afford to be a full-service hospital? If not, what kind of collaborative arrangement with other health care providers makes sense? This choice will demand a measure of vision and a measure of common sense.

We the taxpayers should be grateful to others who are willing to serve on these boards. But we also should not be shy in demanding more skepticism and financial oversight.

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