The health officer for Spokane, Washington, was officially fired on Thursday night despite an extraordinary outpouring of public support from medical professionals, school officials, and activists who were shocked he would be canned in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
A hundred new COVID-19 cases were recorded Thursday in the health district, where the positivity rate is now flirting with 3 percent and hospitalizations are also on the rise.
But the board was consumed with a personnel drama that seemed to boil down to a contest of wills between the health officer, Dr. Bob Lutz, who has been described as Spokane’s Dr. Fauci, and his boss, administrative officer Amelia Clark.
In a public Zoom session, Clark cataloged a litany of alleged transgressions by Lutz, portraying him as a renegade who ignored her orders and “acts as though rules do not apply to him.”
She said she received complaints from employees and the public that Lutz attended an anti-racism protest during lockdown, made public statements about gun violence, and referred to businesses demanding to reopen during the pandemic as “selfish.” She said staffers had complained he criticized them for eating meat and that one was upset he massaged her neck.
Lutz admitted he could be “demanding, irascible, bristly and downright curmudgeonly” but said many of the allegations were untrue, distorted, or laking context. Furthermore, he told the board, “my decisions have been based on the science available to me.”
Under questioning from board members, Clark conceded that she never made good on her stated intention to give Lutz a corrective action plan at a meeting last Thursday. Instead, he claims, she told him he was fired “effective immediately”—even though the board had not voted on it.
News of the attempted ouster—and the secrecy surrounding the process—sparked rallies in support of Lutz. One demonstrator, epidemiologist Anna Halloran, told The Daily Beast earlier this week that his dismissal was baffling.
“He’s qualified, he’s competent, he’s supportive and thoughtful and compassionate and respectful and decent,” she said. “He lets people practice drawing blood from his own arm. He’s exemplary at every single turn. Why on earth would you remove a health officer during a pandemic?”
During the board meeting, Lutz said he was willing to undergo counseling, training, or mediation to improve his working relationship with Clark—who appeared to just want him gone.
“I don’t know that Dr. Lutz and I could come back from this at this point,” she said.
After a long executive session behind closed doors and then public discussion, the board voted 8-4 to terminate Lutz. His attorney, Bryce Wilcox, said before the vote that they were reserving their right to contest the firing, saying the timing and motivation of the dismissal was “highly suspect.”
Spokane Fires Health Officer Bob Lutz Despite Protests The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Daily Beast.