Spokane Regional Health District Administrative Officer Amelia Clark announced to staff in an email Wednesday morning that she will be leaving her position for another job out of state when her contract ends on Sept. 16.
Clark has been under investigation by the Washington State Board of Health since November 2020 over the firing of then-Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz. While Clark maintains she told Lutz to resign and placed him on administrative leave when they had a discussion on Oct. 29, 2020, Lutz maintains that she told him he was fired and he was not placed on paid leave until Nov. 2.
The local health board's attorney also emailed the board members on Oct. 29 to tell them Lutz had been terminated.
The issue is that under state law, the local health board needs to hold a hearing before firing a health officer, and that hearing was not held until the next week.
A preliminary investigative report prepared for the state Board of Health last year pointed out that one option the state board would have should they find Clark broke the law by firing Lutz would be to remove her from her position.
"Ms. Clark states she put him on paid leave Oct. 30. The thing is though, there isn’t any evidence other than her saying so to support that," investigative report author Karen Sutherland told the state health board at a meeting exactly a year ago. "Making it retroactive didn't somehow un-fire him."
The state investigation has been handed over to the Office of Administrative Hearings and was initially set to go before an administrative law judge in January, but was postponed to May and most recently got postponed to mid-September. It now appears the end of Clark's contract could coincide with that hearing.
In her email, Clark told health district staff, "An opportunity presented itself to me, and I have accepted a new position out of state. While we are just beginning to plan the transitional phase as my time winds down over the next few months, I wanted you to hear this announcement from me."
Clark also wrote that she has "very much enjoyed" her time at the health district and serving Spokane County. Clark started shortly before the pandemic hit and has led the district throughout the response, including working with the current Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez.
"I am immensely proud and grateful of all your hard work, dedication, and perseverance in promoting, protecting, and improving public health in the community," Clark wrote in her email today. "Thank you."
Under Clark's leadership, dozens of staffers left the health district, with some citing issues with her management style. While some said there was already a "culture of fear" at the district before Clark started in September 2019, many told the Inlander that worsened after she took the helm.
After the Inlander reported on two district leaders being terminated from their jobs and escorted out of the building in December, using information from concerned staff members who recorded a staff meeting, Clark called the cops and asked them to come do an in-person investigation to find out who recorded her.
Mary Kuney, chair of the local health board, praised Clark’s leadership in a press release, saying, “Dr. Clark will be missed. Her accomplishments while at the helm of SRHD have resulted in a health district that is managed efficiently, addresses security concerns, is fiscally responsible and transparent, all while continuing to keep our community’s health and safety a priority.”
In the meantime, Lutz has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the district.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 2:22 pm June 1 to add comments from Kuney. This story was also updated on Aug. 31 to correct the date of the conversation between Clark and Lutz and the email from the health board's lawyer to Oct. 29.