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Two finalists for Spokane County health officer start interview process Friday

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 30, 2021

Two candidates vying for the role of Spokane County’s health officer will begin the interview process Friday.

After former health officer Dr. Bob Lutz was fired by Spokane Regional Health District Administrator Amelia Clark in late October 2020 and then formally fired by the Spokane Board of Health in early November, the Board installed Dr. Francisco Velázquez as the interim health officer.

Clark hired a firm earlier this year to begin the national search for a permanent health officer, and on Friday the two candidates who met the qualifications for the position will have their first interviews.

The firing of Lutz haunted the health district, with resignations in protest and citizen complaints filed to the Washington Board of Health. Clark is the subject of a Washington Board of Health hearing tentatively set to begin Jan. 18 to determine whether she broke state law in her dismissal of Lutz .

The process to hire a new health officer involves four internal interviews with health district executive leadership team members, joint management of the district, the executive committee of the Board of Health and a one-on-one with Clark.

The health district’s executive leadership team is missing three members, as three division directors have either resigned or retired this year.

After the interviews, Clark will meet with the interview panels and receive their feedback about the two candidates.

“Depending on what I hear and what makes sense, I will be able to come back to the Board of Health with a recommendation of who I want approved,” Clark told the board on Thursday, adding that the board could deny her request or ask her to keep looking.

There is no public involvement in the hiring process of the health officer, except for the meeting when Clark makes a recommendation to the board.

The Board of Health has the final approval of a health officer.

The Board of Health’s bylaws state the health officer must “be a qualified physician trained or experienced in public health.”

Washington state law is more specific. A health officer must be “an experienced physician licensed to practice medicine and surgery or osteopathic medicine and surgery in this state,” as well as hold a master’s degree in public health or its equivalent.

If a health officer was hired without those qualifications and completed three years in that role by undergoing public health training, they could also qualify for the permanent position of health officer, state law says.

The district would not reveal who the two candidates for the position are, although when the health district was run by a director, finalists for that role were made public.

“Out of respect for the applicants’ privacy, it is SRHD policy, and also an HR industry standard, to not disclose the names of applicants other than to the members of the immediate interview team,” Kelli Hawkins, spokesperson for the district wrote in an email. “If a current employee applied for another position at SRHD, they would be excluded from any portion of the interview process.”

Clark could bring a recommendation to the Board of Health at its Oct. 28 meeting or call for a special meeting before that date to hire a health officer permanently.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story 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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