Washington Board of Health to investigate claims SRHD administrator broke law by firing Lutz

click to enlarge Washington Board of Health to investigate claims SRHD administrator broke law by firing Lutz
Daniel Walters photo
Dr. Bob Lutz, formerly Spokane's health officer.

The Washington State Board of Health has unanimously voted to open a preliminary investigation into multiple complaints against Spokane Regional Health District Administrative Officer Amelia Clark.

Multiple Spokane community members filed complaints with the state board alleging Clark had broken state law by firing now-former health officer Dr. Bob Lutz on Oct. 29. Only the local Board of Health can hire or fire the health officer, which that board opted to do on Nov. 5, a full week after Clark took away Lutz's keys and access to the office.

One complaint, filed by former Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, alleges that Clark broke state law when she told Lutz to resign or he would be fired, and took his keys and ID badge at the same time.

"They fired him," Stuckart's Nov. 3 complaint states. "I am requesting an investigation."

Another complaint states, "We believe their removal of Dr. Bob Lutz from his position as Spokane County Health Officer, with neither an opportunity for a public hearing, nor a meeting of the full Spokane County Board of Health, was undertaken in ways that violated RCW 70.05.050."

Two days after those complaints were sent, the local board of health did hold a public meeting during which Clark and Lutz each got to make their case, before the board voted 8-4 to fire Lutz.

In a letter, attorney Michelle Fossum, representing Clark, states that Clark actually told Lutz to resign by 4 pm Oct. 30 or she would seek his termination by the board. The letter acknowledges Clark took "SRHD property from him."

"Because Dr. Lutz did not resign, he was placed on paid administrative leave pending meeting and decision of the SRHD Board of Health," the Nov. 9 letter from Fossum to the state board reads.

The eight-person state Board of Health, of which Lutz is a member, briefly spoke Monday afternoon about their potential role in the matter, which would only include the power to deal with Administrative Officer Clark, not decisions made by the local board. The state board may not reinstate Lutz as that position is hired by the local board.

The main question is over the sequence of events leading up to the local board meeting where Lutz was fired.

"I am concerned about how things have transpired," state board member and state Secretary of Health John Wiesman says during the Monday meeting. "I think that for the community it’s important to get our best sense of transparency here."

Still, seeing as the board did fire Lutz by a vote later, even if Clark erred, Wiseman noted he wasn’t sure if there would be anything left to remedy.

Wiesman also said he would support finding money to pay for an outside investigator to look into the matter to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, as multiple people on the board know both Lutz and Clark. 

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Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil is the News Editor and covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. She's been with the paper since 2017.