Spokane Board of Health votes to terminate health officer Dr. Bob Lutz
SPOKANE, Wash. – After a two hour public meeting and more than an hour in executive session, a divided Spokane Health Board made official a decision that was bungled last week: Dr. Bob Lutz is no longer the health officer for Spokane County.
Lutz can only be dismissed by approval of the board, which is what is required by the health district’s bylaws. Last week, health district Administrative Officer Amelia Clark said she fired Lutz, though she was not authorized to do so.
The community outcry and allegations of violations of the open meetings act led to a public meeting Thursday, which thousands of people watched on the health district’s YouTube page.
What the board meeting revealed was beyond the allegations made against Dr. Lutz. It revealed a serious breakdown between the health board and its administrative officer and also communication issues within the agency itself.
Amelia Clark had 30 minutes to make her case to the board, which included a laundry list of times where she said Dr. Lutz violated his role as the health officer. Many of the allegations pre-date Clark’s time within the health district.
The allegations include insubordination, misappropriation of funds, retaliation and others. She admitted late in the meeting that she had no issues with Lutz’s work as a doctor, but that she didn’t want to be left out of decisions and actions as the administrator of the agency. This refutes accusations some in the community have made, alleging it was a disagreement over the opening of the economy that led to the disputes.
Clark detailed allegations, which included a claim that he authorized the setting up of a field hospital for inmates in response to the COVID crisis, even though Clark was never notified as the person who oversees the health district and its budget. Clark said it was never set up and was deemed unnecessary because the hospitals had enough capacity to care for COVID patients.
Clark also listed personnel complaints against Lutz, including massaging a co-workers’ shoulders, working around managers and personally insulting co-workers who don’t believe the same things he does. Clark cited complaints that Lutz chastises co-workers for things like eating meat, using studded snow tires and driving “big ass trucks.”
Clark cited Lutz using his role as health officer to give speeches and writing op-eds in the newspaper without health district authorization.
“Dr. Lutz has directly stated to me that he does not want to be part of a team, that he should not be micromanaged and should not report to anyone,” Clark said. Dr. Lutz said he doesn’t remember saying that and says letters from the community show that he’s able to work well with others.
Clark likened her relationship with Lutz as similar to parents, who should be on the same page and present a unified front.
Clark also said she received complaints about Lutz being at a BLM protest when he, as the health officer, was urging others to stay home.
Spokane County Commissioner and board member Al French echoed that concern, saying “you can’t unwind” the lack of integrity of the agency when the health officer goes against the governor’s Stay Home order.
“His ongoing patterns of behavior has not changed, despite numerous discussions. It is clear to me Dr. Lutz is not willing to make the changes to be part of the Spokane Regional Health District moving forward.”
County Commissioner Mary Kuney acknowledged meetings this summer in which she and board chair Ben Wick were brought in to try to help Clark and Lutz better work together.
Lutz used his time during the meeting not to specifically refute the claims against him. He said he was providing a document for the record that cited his position on those claims. He used his time to highlight what have been difficult decisions regarding COVID and the economic impacts.
“I recognize that I can be demanding… and, downright curmudgeonly at times,” Lutz said. But, he said he believes he could work with Clark, possibly with some outside help. He admitted he does not like to be micromanaged and said he was committed to working on that going forward.
When asked if she’d be willing to sit down with a third-party coach to work this out, Clark said she didn’t think she and Lutz could “come back from this at this point.”
Lutz said he would be willing to meet with a third party to work this out.
Lutz’s attorney called this a “turf battle” and said that none of the allegations are related to his role as the health officer.
One member of the health board said he was unaware of the underlying problems between Clark and Lutz, which apparently have been prevalent since Clark joined the agency last September.
Board member and city council member Betsy Wilkerson pointed out that there was no performance plan put in place for Dr. Lutz, which was concerning to her. Clark admits she had written one up in June, but received advice not to go forward with it.
Clark acknowledged that in a meeting last week, the board thought a corrective action was being put in place. But, she said when she and Ben Wick met with Lutz, he kept saying he “stood by his actions.” When pressed, she said she never actually presented the corrective action plan with him.
In fact, she had a severance plan ready to present to him, which means she went around the board and made the decision without their knowledge.
Before going into executive session, the two were asked if they respected each other. Each answered that they respect the position the other holds, but could not say they respected the other person.
After discussion and questions from the board, the board went into executive session. Their vote must be done in public after that session.
When they returned, Commissioner Al French made a motion to dismiss Lutz. Commissioner Josh Kerns seconded the motion.
Commissioner French said timing and the pandemic should not factor into the issue. He also pointed out that the cases have increased during Lutz’s leadership, not mentioning that cases have increased nationwide.
City Council President Breann Beggs said this process has pitted people against each other and created fear. “It’s dividing us, much like the virus is dividing us.”
Beggs said the board did not do a good job in defining the rolls of the administrator and health officer. That system was restructured several years ago. Beggs said he’s committed to making that happen as long as he’s on the board.
“I’m frustrated that this process has seemed very broken,” Beggs said. “It has been unsatisfactory for the public.”
“For all the thousands of people that contacted my office… we hear you,” said Beggs. “You just want a trusted medical voice… as you try and take care of your family and move forward. We have failed you in that sense.”
Beggs voted to retain Lutz.
Council member Betsy Wilkerson said what she heard was personal and professional differences between Lutz and Clark. “A good leader can usually find a way out, especially out of a situation like this.”
Wilkerson also voted to retain Lutz.
Commissioner Mary Kuney said the county will continue to follow state guidelines and that this was not an attempt to find someone who would authorize the relaxing of restrictions.
Council member Karen Stratton said she has “100 percent” faith in Amelia Clark. She also said Dr. Lutz has done a good job “outfacing to the community” during the pandemic.
She went on to say “This feels like two people doing the best job that they know how.. but, it just hasn’t worked out.”
Stratton said she was voting not to remove Lutz.
In the end, it was an 8-4 vote to terminate. Those voting to keep Lutz were Breann Beggs, Karen Stratton, Betsy Wilkerson and Jason Kinley.
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