Spokane Regional Health Officer Removed Illegally, Investigators Find
A preliminary Washington Board of Health investigation released Tuesday found that Spokane Regional Health District Administrator Amelia Clark likely violated state law when she removed Dr. Bob Lutz from his role as health officer.
Lutz was Spokane County’s health officer until October 29 of last year. He was removed from his post because of ongoing clashes with the administrator, Clark, and differences of opinion with some health board members.
The investigation was started after a complaint over Lutz’s firing was filed with the state board of health. The investigators reviewed emails, footage from a virtual press conference, press releases and interviewed most of the people involved.
According to the investigation, the day Lutz was removed as health officer, Clark met with him after a board of health meeting, along with former Board Chair Ben Wick.
Accounts of that meeting differ. Lutz said Clark terminated him. Clark said she asked for his resignation and presented a severance package. Wick escorted Lutz out of the building and Lutz’s access to his official health district accounts, phone, and computer were cut off. An email went out to all health district staff a day later saying he was no longer the health officer.
Under state law, an administrator can’t fire a health officer without giving notice first, and a public hearing.
For days after his removal, Clark, and Health Board members made conflicting statements, and it was unclear if the district had a health officer, or if the board had violated state open public meeting laws to illegally remove him. He was officially fired by the board during a public hearing November 5.
Investigators concluded that even if Lutz was on administrative leave, Clark removed Lutz’s ability to perform his duties as a health officer without notice, or a public hearing, which is a power not granted to her under state law.
In a response issued later this afternoon, current Chair of the Board of Health Mary Kuney said Lutz was not fired by Clark.
“To be clear, the SRHD Board, as stipulated by Washington law, and only the SRHD Board, terminated the employment of Dr. Bob Lutz with SRHD. Dr. Lutz could not have been terminated on October 29, because he continued to receive his full pay and benefits until termination by the SRHD Board on November 5, 2020. He was placed on administrative leave. As is the usual operating procedure for an employee placed on administrative leave, his access was removed when the leave commenced. Dr. Lutz remained on paid administrative leave for a week prior to his termination by the SRHD Board.”
She said the board will not be making any further comments until the State Board of Health meeting, in anticipation of Lutz suing the district.
The Washington State Board of Health will discuss these findings during its May 27 meeting. It has several options. It can dismiss the claim, hold a public hearing to see whether Clark has violated the law, or seek further information.
The full report, and instructions on how to attend that meeting are available on the Washington State Board of Health’s website.