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Spokane Regional Health District prepares for potential Lutz lawsuit

Rebecca White/SPR

The Spokane Regional Board of Health voted to indemnify board members and Chief Administrative Officer Amelia Clark from a potential lawsuit from their former top health official Thursday.

Indemnification is a practice many governments do when facing litigation. It means if elected leaders are individually sued for actions they took in their official capacity, the government will cover the cost, instead of the individual board members.

Spokane County Commissioner Al French says the health district has not been sued by its former health officer yet.

“We know a claim has been filed, but not lawsuit has been filed,” he said. “If there is, that will be worked out in the court system. But this is not to be interpreted in any way as an admission of guilt or an admission of exposure in any way. It’s a standard procedure you do prior to getting into litigation.”

Former health officer Bob Lutz filed a $1.4 million administrative complaint in October, alleging wrongful dismissal, political interference and defamation.

He was formally fired by board members at the end of October of 2020, after he was removed from his post as health officer the week before. Citing state law, he has argued Clark had no authority to keep him from his duties as health officer, the hearing to fire him was conducted improperly and his reputation was damaged in the process.

The board of health and the county commissioners have maintained that Lutz’s firing occurred legally through a public vote.

If Lutz’s claim is not settled this month, he will be able to file a civil lawsuit against board and Clark.

During their meeting the health board also adopted its $47.8 million budget for next year. Most of the district’s revenue is inflexible, and is based on grants, federal programs and Medicaid and Medicare funds.

Initially, the health district was facing a potential deficit after a year of elevated pandemic expenses, but was able to cut down on costs by eliminating several staff positions and reorganizing its workforce. The remaining gap was closed with a nearly $2 million contribution from the county.

The budget was adopted by unanimous vote.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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