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Floyd County Reverses Decision To Unseat Health Department Head

Testing Center-3
J. Tyler Franklin
A concerned citizen is tested for COVID-19 at the Floyd County Health Department on March 20, 2020. Kentucky will get a drive-thru testing site on April 13.

The Floyd County Commissioners have approved the recertification of the county’s top health official, reversing their decision to deny his appointment at their last meeting.

The certification put an end to a month of uncertainty over who would lead the Floyd County Health Department for the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic. At the commissioners’ Dec. 1 meeting, Dr. Tom Harris’ reappointment by the health department board of directors was denied.

On Tuesday, the commissioners – all Republicans – unanimously voted to reverse that decision. The certification came with a “plan to address shortcomings” within the health department, including a list of suggested initiatives to increase “accountability and transparency.” Those suggestions included a weekly or bi-weekly podcast from Harris.

“COVID brought this board to the forefront, and we’re able to see some inefficiencies and lack of transparency and problems with the current process,” Commissioner President and GOP Chair Shawn Carruthers said during the meeting.

After the vote, Carruthers criticized the health department for acting “behind closed doors.” He said not enough has been done to address opioid abuse and mental health in the community.

Carruthers went on to level similar complaints against other boards in Floyd County and blamed “complacency” for allowing the county to fall behind its peers.

“We look at Clark County and the explosion in growth over there,” Carruthers said. 

“We point to different reasons, but it starts with us examining ourselves and seeing the problems that’s within our community right here… Our boards need to have people on there that’s engaged and want to make change. We need a health board that’s going to lead and not follow.”

Comments made by Carruthers and Commissioner John Schellenberger were met with pushback from members of the public during the meeting. County residents said the commissioners were hypocritical in their criticism, specifically over issues dealing with addiction and mental health.

Dr. William Garner, president of the Floyd County Health Department Board of Directors, also spoke during public comment. Contrary to Carruthers’ complaints over lack of transparency, he said all board meetings are open to the public.

“We’ve always got meetings that are open to the public,” he said. “We advertise those meetings two weeks in advance. The public is welcome to come by and give their opinion.”

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, none of the commissioners had gone into much detail about their criticism of Harris, who has served as health officer since 2006. The commissioners had previously tabled Harris’s reappointment by the Floyd County Health Department board of directors at their Nov. 17 meeting – the same day Harris announced new restrictions for Floyd County restaurants and bars.

Harris did not speak during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting.

John is News Editor for LPM. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.