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Health board doubles down on its stance that administrator did not fire former health officer Dr. Bob Lutz

Aug. 6, 2021 Updated Fri., Aug. 6, 2021 at 9:20 p.m.

Health District Administrator Amelia Clark, left, is seen in this March 2020 photo during a news conference with then-Health Officer Bob Lutz concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Clark has informed the Health Board she will not be seeking an extension of her contract, which expires in September.  (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Health District Administrator Amelia Clark, left, is seen in this March 2020 photo during a news conference with then-Health Officer Bob Lutz concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Clark has informed the Health Board she will not be seeking an extension of her contract, which expires in September. (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane Board of Health has doubled down on its claim that Administrator Amelia Clark did not fire former Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz last fall, despite evidence recently published that indicates she did.

Emails, testimony, media reports and a preliminary investigation all suggest Clark did fire Lutz, but the Spokane Board of Health continues to disagree, according to a statement it released on Friday.

The statement was intended to address an Oct. 29 email published in the Inlander from board attorney Michelle Fossum to board members advising them that Clark had “terminated Dr. Lutz’s employment.”

“The Spokane Regional Board of Health (BOH) does not agree with statements made by various individuals who have alleged Administrative Officer Dr. Amelia Clark terminated Dr. Bob Lutz in violation of Washington State law,” the statement says. “Dr. Lutz was terminated by the BOH in an open public meeting on Nov. 5, 2020, as required by law. The disclosed email adds to the public’s confusion surrounding the Oct. 29 meeting between Dr. Clark, Dr. Lutz, and then BOH Chair Ben Wick.”

The email adds to the string of evidence that surfaced last fall and more recently that indicates Clark did fire Lutz before the Board of Health did.

The Spokane Board of Health had a special meeting this week to address reporting in the Inlander and The Spokesman-Review, and a majority of the board voted to draft and release the statement in response, with City Council President Breean Beggs voting against it and Spokane Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson abstaining. Beggs asked to not be included on the statement released Friday.

The board’s statement also attempted to cast doubt on what happened the night Clark took Lutz’ keys.

“It is clear from Dr. Lutz himself, Dr. Clark, and Mr. Wick, who have the same recollection, he was not terminated on Thursday, October 29,” the board’s statement on Friday said.

This contradicts reporting at the time and the preliminary state investigation.

Lutz did say he had not resigned, and he also asserted that he was fired.

The board’s statement cherry-picked Lutz’ quotes to The Spokesman-Review last fall, keeping his admission that he had not resigned, but neglecting to include his statement that said, “To be clear, Amelia Clark fired me last Thursday. She told me in a meeting late Thursday afternoon that I was terminated ‘effective immediately,’ requested my SRHD identification, keys, cell phone and laptop, and told me I could contact HR to retrieve my personal items.”

In the chaotic late-morning press conference on Oct. 30, Clark, when pressed by reporters, said there was no current health officer at the district.

But Lutz had until 4 p.m. that day to resign, according to the Board of Health’s statement released Friday.

When Lutz did not resign but remained locked out of the health district, The Spokesman-Review found that vaccine clinics were actually canceled that week and the next week, since Lutz’ license was no longer being used to offer services at the health district.

The preliminary investigation ordered by the State Board of Health found that Clark did not place him on retroactive administrative leave until Nov. 2.

After receiving the results of the investigation, the State Board of Health voted to call Clark for a hearing with an administrative law judge to determine whether she violated state law by firing Lutz. The State Board of Health could remove Clark from her position, order a remedy to the situation or do nothing.

Clark’s hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings will likely be held later this year, when she and other witnesses will be sworn in under oath to get to the bottom of what happened on Oct. 29. Only the State Board of Health can officially decide whether Clark violated state law and how to remedy the situation.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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