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District advisory council called to address health department oversight

Township trustees across Washington County are raising their eyebrows and discussing calendar adjustments as the recently-scrutinized county health leadership brings their liability into question.

A meeting of the District Advisory Council, which is the county township trustee oversight of the Washington County Board of Health, has been scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. at the Washington County Engineer’s Office, 103 Westview Ave.

The meeting was scheduled to discuss recent appointments and resignations on the Washington County Board of Health, a potential lawsuit against the District Advisory Council and the board’s selection last week of a health department administrator.

“I think we’ve been kept in the dark, and I don’t know if that’s on purpose or just negligence, but I think we’ll be doing some calling around the townships and see what we can find out now,” said John Hannan, Barlow Township trustee president, after receiving notice from the Times of the scheduled DAC meeting.

Several township trustees said this week that they were not informed of the first scheduling of this meeting for next week in Little Hocking. That meeting time and location then changed Wednesday when Belpre Township Fiscal Officer Paula Smith contacted The Marietta Times with a public notice of the special meeting to be held Friday.

In the email she said the president of each Washington County township is required to attend along with a representative from the villages of Beverly, Lowell, Lower Salem, Macksburg and New Matamoras.

“The townships contribute to that health department budget, and normally the DAC meeting is incorporated into the county township trustee association meeting–back to back,” explained Hannan. “That’s when they’ve filled us in in the past about what’s going on at the health department, and we voted to place Bruce Kelbaugh on the board and Roger Kauffman on the board in May. But it sounds like we were not getting the whole story.”

According to state law, the president of every township board of trustees is a voting member of the District Advisory Council, in addition to the president of the county township trustees association (Muskingum Township Trustee Gary Doan) and the president of the Washington County Board of Commissioners (David White).

“I didn’t even know until this year that we’re supposed to have our president on that council. In the seven years I’ve been a commissioner it’s never been on the list we get at the beginning of the year reminding us all the boards we sit on and appoint to,” White said on Tuesday. “I got a call last Monday (Sept. 9) from Asa Boring notifying me that we had to hold a (DAC) meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 10) and I got another call today (Sept. 17) for a meeting next week.”

White said he was unable to attend the Sept. 10 meeting.

“We’re going to meet tomorrow evening, Tuesday evening, there at the health board, just to have a meeting probably just in the parking lot to vote on who we’re going to appoint to the board, “ said Boring in the message left for White.

Friday’s meeting

Ousted Washington County Health Commissioner Dick Wittberg has submitted a formal public records request to the council for its meeting minutes and policies under Sunshine laws.

“I was never notified of a meeting (on Sept. 10) and was not in attendance. I question whether open meeting laws were followed,” wrote Wittberg in a letter submitted to the DAC Tuesday. “If there was not an open meeting at any time during the process (over the last year), any action (such as the appointment of a Board of Health member) that was taken during that meeting would be void. Any votes taken by those BOH members after being so selected would also be void. Should I choose to pursue this action against the District Advisory Council, the Open Meetings Act provides for a fine of $500 per violation of the Act.”

Wittberg’s letter received a response from the DAC secretary, Paula M. Smith, also serving as fiscal officer for Belpre Township with trustees Asa Boring, Curt Welch and Dan Mason, asking for his attendance at the special meeting called next week, before it was changed to Friday.

Gary Doan, president of the Washington County Township Trustee Association, said he was also was confused by the meeting time and location changes Wednesday.

” I’ve been president of the association for two years, and this is the first time I’ve received any notice of DAC meetings,” he said.

Ohio Laws Governing Departmental Organization

Ohio Revised Code also requires that the departmental oversight be organized by the board of health with either a full-time health commissioner above department section heads (population health, environmental health, nursing and fiscal) or a part-time health commissioner and a full-time administrator.

Past practice with Wittberg and Population Health Director Court Witschey implemented the part-time option until 2015 when Wittberg was elevated to full-time, and Witschey stepped down as administrator at the time of his son’s birth.

Witschey resigned from the department in August stating in a letter to the Washington County Commissioners that he “cannot, and will not, work for men that do not align with my moral and ethical compass.”

“This is government at its worst,” he wrote, encouraging county commissioner investigation into the board’s actions.

Commissioner White confirmed Tuesday that outside counsel is being pursued by the county commissioners with an authorized $3,000 general fund appropriation to investigate the board.

Board of Health President Bruce Kelbaugh said last week after returning from executive session to review the five resumes submitted for the full-time administrator posting, that he made the motion to hire Roger Kauffman as the department administrator because of a personal recommendation by an undisclosed person in the county.

“We’ve had a vacuum for too long, this lets the employees know where we’re headed,” said Kelbaugh in the last board meeting on Sept. 10. “He graduated from local schools, I know his dad, he was on the Warren (local school district board of education).”

Following that meeting board member Joe Mills resigned, disagreeing with the hiring practice without performing interviews of applicants and making a decision based only on resume review.

Those resumes, obtained by a Times’ public records request, show varied education levels of applicants from multiple doctorates to an associate’s degree in medical assisting. Kauffman has a bachelors degree in agriculture and most recently worked as a sanitarian in Illinois.

Washington County Human Resources Director Kathy Thieman confirmed Tuesday that no mention of salary requirements was listed with the health administrator posting, nor did any of the applications include requested salaries or salary ranges.

A leadership vacuum will exist for authorization of payroll and administration of grants between Oct. 18 (Wittberg’s final day in office as accepted by 3-2 BOH vote last week) and Nov. 30– out of compliance with state-mandated oversight and calling into question authorization of federal funding spent during that period.

What’s next

The members of the District Advisory Council executive committee include:

Curt Welch, Belpre Township trustee, resident of Little Hocking.

Asa Boring, Belpre Township trustee, resident of Little Hocking.

Jedd Butler, Independence Township trustee, postal address in Newport.

Paula Smith, Belpre Township fiscal officer, resident of Little Hocking.

David White, Washington County Commissioner, resident of Marietta.

The turnout may be higher than normal, given the concerns about the health board.

“I’ll try to get there if I can,” said Adams Township Trustee Wayne Isner. “(In the past) I quit going to those township association meetings because they ran so long and seemed just to be a reason to get guys together, but I think we need to take a closer look.”

Doan noted Wednesday that 10 a.m. on a Friday would prove difficult for a fully-representative attendance.

“Many trustees work during the day, but I will reach out to as many as I can to try and get them to come,” he said.

Wittberg has indicated he intends to pursue a formal legal complaint against the DAC for violation of public meetings laws which if proven could nullify all board actions in recent months, including his original dismissal and then part-time hire, the appointment of Roger Kauffman as health administrator last week and the authorization for the health department’s budget including step raises.

“I question whether the township trustees agree with how Asa Boring and this executive committee is controlling the votes,” said Wittberg on Wednesday.

The Washington County Board of Health is next scheduled to meet on Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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