Health board discusses potential litigation

The majority of the emergency board meeting for the Washington County Health Board was closed from public participation Thursday.

Following comments by Jim Raney, of Marietta, and Anthony Touschner, of Marietta, calling for the board to act more transparently concerning the dismissal of Washington County Health Commissioner Richard Wittberg, the board went into executive session for more than two hours.

“I believe the public has a right to know whether the health board’s instructions to its health commissioner were legal and ethical,” said Raney. “I encourage the health board to be transparent about the reasons for Mr. Wittberg’s dismissal, in a way that will demonstrate to the public its due diligence in complying with the Ohio Revised Code.”

The board responded to the Times’ public records request by allowing inspection of the personnel file of Wittberg–nowhere in which is there any documentation of disciplinary action as of Thursday evening following the meeting.

Then, stating possible litigation as the reason for calling an executive session, only the remaining board members Kelbaugh, Richard Daniell, Joe Mills and Dr. Kenneth Leopold, Washington County Prosecutor Nicole Coil and District Advisory Council Member Jedd Butler were permitted to remain.

“This does not have to do with the city’s lawsuit,” said Coil before the door was shut, referring to the board’s adjoining role in the Marietta sewer dispute with the county over a breach of contract to sewer Devola and Oak Grove in Muskingum Township.

She did not, however, indicate what potential litigation the board discussed.

Following the executive session, which all leadership of the health department stayed in the building for the duration of, the board denied a proposed contract from the former commissioner to work as an independent contractor with the health department to administer work under a federal grant.

“Dick (Wittberg) had many projects like that one, and without a local project director the department cannot use the grant,” explained Director of Public Health Court Witschey after the meeting.

The grant is from the Health Resources and Services Administration, through the Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation to plan a community response to address substance abuse and the opioid epidemic in the county.

Washington County, through Wittberg, was a partner with other counties in Ohio and Ohio University to produce not only a response plan but a subsequent workforce development plan in the region.

“Then we were told implementation of grant funding may then follow the completion of the PIRE grant work, approximately $85,000,” said Witschey.

Freshman Board Member Joe Mills then made a motion that the board invite Wittberg to discuss an amended contract agreement with the board.

The board also unanimously voted to appoint Witschey as the designee able to sign all matters needing health department blessing, including documents pertaining to nursing, environmental governance and other certifications but noted that Witschey will have to be bonded for liability protection though no former health commissioner has been bonded since the Ohio Revised Code was codified in 1993.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is Aug. 13 at 5:30 p.m.

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


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