Shake up continues with county health board

A further exodus of board members means more planning and questions for the leadership of the county health district.

Board member Joe Mills, who was appointed in April to a five-year term, resigned when he arrived home late Wednesday night after the board of health’s regular meeting.

“I felt I needed to remove myself from the board because of the potential perception and liability of that board’s decision making,” said Mills Wednesday. “I don’t want any part of it.”

Mills’ resignation is effective immediately, but Dr. Kenneth Leopold, also a board member and the only physician on the board (as required by Ohio law), will soon be off the board, too.

“Due to philosophical concerns about the direction the Washington County Board of Health is headed, I tender my resignation to the board,” wrote Leopold in a letter dated July 21, 2019. “I will continue to serve as a member on the Board of Health until such time as a replacement is obtained or until Oct. 31.”

With the board’s acceptance of Dick Wittberg’s resignation as the part-time health commissioner Tuesday, the health department will have no direct leadership nor currently identified authorization to pay its employees between Oct. 18 (Wittberg’s termination date) and Nov. 30 when the newly appointed (as of Tuesday) Health Department Administrator Roger Coffman is expected to take office.

But the resignations began when Wittberg was initially removed as full-time commissioner in July, at which point former board member Jim Rodgers resigned, Leopold resigned and then returned, and Director of Population Health Court Witschey tendered his resignation in August.

“I believe there are ways to make decisions and processes for a board that are best practices; it seems those processes are not viewed as important by other board members and the outcomes by not following those are not worth the liability,” said Mills. “For example, in hiring a person, it’s a common practice to review resumes, then select people for interviews, interview them and then make a decision. (Professionally) I’ve interviewed people, hired people and fired people–these are industry standards.”

But Tuesday’s decision to hire Coffman saw no such process.

Tuesday the board reviewed five resumes in executive session.

Coffman’s resume has been obtained by the Times which is currently awaiting the receipt of a public records request to the county human resources department for the remaining four applications.

Both Mills and Kathy Thieman, Washington County director of human resources, confirmed Wednesday that the remaining four applications were submitted by women.

Thieman said Wednesday she would have the remaining resumes available for the Times’ review Thursday.

“There were some applicants that met the requirements with different amounts of expertise as well as different areas of expertise,” said Mills. “They were qualified applicants worth interviewing. Now I’m not saying the outcome would have been any different, or the vote of the quorum would have been any different, but I would have liked to interview at least two or three first before making that (appointment).”

Instead, Tuesday with a 3-2 vote, Leopold and Mills voted against and board veteran Richard Daniell, board president Bruce Kelbaugh and newly appointed as of Tuesday board member Jeffrey Jones voted in favor of the appointment of Coffman.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, even with a full-time health administrator employed to run the health department, the board must still appoint a part-time commissioner.

“The person appointed as commissioner shall be a licensed physician, licensed dentist, a licensed veterinarian, licensed podiatrist, licensed chiropractor, or the holder of a master’s degree in public health or an equivalent master’s degree in a related health field,” it reads.

According to the county government website, the board must consist of five members — one of which must be a physician, dentist or veterinarian.

“Each member is appointed to a five-year term, with a position becoming open each year,” reads the board of health landing page. “Four of the appointments are made by the District Advisory Council (made up of county township trustees), and one member and an alternate are appointed by the Licensing Council.”

Meanwhile, the board and department are still preparing for a mandated move from Muskingum Drive to Gilman Avenue.

Washington County Job and Family Services Director Flite Freimann said Wednesday that the moving costs and required building modifications will be covered by an allocation of $25,000 from the county general fund to be authorized by the Washington County Commissioners and by his internal department building maintenance budget.

“Because they are the last entity to move we’re not under the same time constraints as other agencies we moved to Gilman,” said Freimann. “The building is owned by the county commissioners, and JFS is a tenant, so we’ll be able to make some of the cosmetic changes through our budget.”

Freimann said the most substantial modifications he anticipates in 1115 Gilman Ave. are for the removal of one wall, an extension of another wall and to run water to another room for the health department.

“I appreciate the confidentiality and security requirements (employees and department heads of) the health department have concerns about, but JFS also had very similar requirements,” he continued. “Many of the things they need are already in place. We have four areas independently blocked off and secured and we’re going to have them walk through these with us and review if those could work for their needs. If there are modifications or additional security points or locks we need to buy, we will.”

The move is currently projected to take place this winter.