A Web site built by and for the city of White Salmon is taking heat for promoting a business located in Oregon -- perhaps at the expense of the city's biggest employer.
The city's Web page was originally created three years ago. Under a "resources" heading, the site lists not only White Salmon's Skyline Hospital, but also Mid-Columbia Medical Center (MCMC) in The Dalles. The listing includes a link to the MCMC Web site, as well as a mission statement from the facility.
Mike Madden, chief executive officer of Skyline Hospital, said the matter came to his attention when one of the hospital's board members told him about the site.
"I thought it was inappropriate," Madden said.
Madden recently sent a letter to White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones, requesting that MCMC not be included on the city's official Web page.
"It has been a goal of White Salmon local businesses to promote the city of White Salmon and our local businesses. It is imperative to our local economy to maintain as many services and opportunities locally to protect our own resources," Madden wrote. "Since Skyline Hospital is within the White Salmon city limits, its board members are elected by the residents therein, and its ambulance service protects White Salmon citizens, it seems that the city of White Salmon should promote Skyline Hospital exclusively ... Please consider this a recommendation from Skyline Hospital's Board of Commissioners to rectify this situation."
In a letter of response, Mayor Jones said she did not believe there was any reason to drop MCMC from the city's Web site.
"I agree that it is important to maintain as many services and opportunities locally as possible," Jones wrote. "However, to be clear, the city's intent is not to promote or advertise, but to simply provide a public service to those who are looking for particular services or businesses in the area. Medical services and health care are a critical and important choice to most people. As I understand it, Skyline Hospital does not provide for specialized care in many areas and that many times patients are referred to either Hood River Hospital, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, or even a Portland medical facility ... I thank you for your recommendation, however, we will not be removing the Mid-Columbia Medical Center from the city's Web site. We will instead expand the Web site to include other medical facilities and information in and around the area."
Madden said he was surprised and disappointed by the mayor's reply.
"Her response was what kind of set me off," Madden said. "She just kind of brushed us aside. She should be promoting White Salmon, period."
Madden noted that Jones is the owner of the White Salmon Wine Bar, and suggested that the city's Web site might consider including alternatives to her business as well.
"Is the city going to list the Hood River Wine Bar, since she doesn't have all the different wines that are available?" Madden questioned.
Skyline, which has 140 employees, is the largest employer in White Salmon.
One of those employees, Penny White Morris, is also a member of the White Salmon City Council. Morris said she was upset with the mayor's response.
"She [Mayor Jones] should look at what our own community has to offer before pointing out what we don't have," Morris said. "It was a negative approach. For me, it's doubly insulting, because Skyline is my employer. I know my dollars come from here, and my dollars are spent in the community."
Madden pointed out that the hospital has an annual payroll of more than $8 million.
"Economists will tell you that payroll dollars generate four and a half times the original amount in subsequent spending in a community. The benefit to our community of the hospital payroll is therefore worth over $36 million to this community," Madden stated.
On April 28, Madden sent a follow-up letter to Mayor Jones and all five members of the White Salmon City Council.
"I am very perplexed by your response and your callous disregard for the largest employer in your city," Madden wrote. "There are very few services that are not provided here at Skyline Hospital ... If your intent is to merely provide a public service, then I would expect that you also list competing businesses in Hood River and The Dalles in all areas. I know from personal experience that there are many services and products that cannot be purchased in White Salmon that can be found in Hood River, yet you do not list them ... the city of White Salmon receives all of its revenue to operate from taxes and fees paid by businesses and residents of White Salmon only. I would doubt that the city of White Salmon has received any fees or taxes from MCMC or the Hood River Hospital."
On Monday, Jones said she had contacted Madden and plans to meet with him on May 14.
"We're going to discuss it with the City Council also," Jones said. "We'll look at creating some kind of policy for our Web site. We're researching it to see what other sites include."
Jones added that she did not know why the MCMC listing was included on the city's Web page.
"I don't know why it was added originally," she said. "I don't know what the criteria were."
It was also unclear when the MCMC listing was added, but those familiar with the site said they were sure it wasn't there before the fall of 2003.
Employees at White Salmon City Hall declined to answer questions regarding when or why the link to the medical facility in The Dalles was added.
Jones said she would reserve further comment until after the city's Web site policy is resolved.