Fayette Board of Health could be in for a shake-up as members' terms expire

Terms expiring for more than half its members

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comJune 15, 2011 

  • What was to be a short paid leave for Dr. Melinda Rowe, Lexington's former health commissioner, has stretched to 15 weeks, but an end may be in sight.

    Rowe attended Monday's Board of Health meeting, and the board went into executive session to discuss a personnel matter. The board took no action, but board chairman Dr. John Roth said the agreement about Rowe's future is in the final stages.

    Rowe, who resigned March 1 as commissioner, makes $178,000 a year. She's been paid about $51,000 since she stopped working for the department.

    Rowe and chief operating officer Rodger Amon resigned March 1 after a series of public meetings at which employees complained of mismanagement of funds, low morale and a hostile work environment.

    Rowe was put on paid leave that was supposed to last a few days. The Board of Health directed new commissioner Dr. Rice Leach to consider Rowe for the newly created job of public health physician.

    Mary Meehan

The membership of the Lexington Fayette County Board of Health appears to be headed for a shake-up.

The terms of seven of the 13 appointed members are expiring at the end of the month and another board member has asked not to be reappointed.

Geoff Reed, senior policy adviser for Mayor Jim Gray, said he's unsure how many new members will be appointed by the mayor. The Board of Health is one of 75 boards with members appointed by the mayor, Reed said.

At a meeting Monday, Board of Health members cited the difficulty and magnitude of running the operation that has more than 300 employees and a $28 million annual budget as a reason for keeping the current experienced board members.

"It would almost be a disservice to have somebody to come into this particular situation at this particular time," said board member Dr. Michael Moore.

The health department has had a series of problems since last fall, including:

■ the March resignation of Health Commissioner Dr. Melinda Rowe and her second in command Rodger Amon;

■ an investigation by the state Office of the Inspector General and the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy;

■ a federal review concerning an $11.7 million grant to build a new clinic raised questions about how tax dollars are allocated to the department's Primary Care Center;

■ and this week, the department announced the need to lay off 25 employees because of a $2.1 million deficit.

Those problems make "a good argument for the need for new blood" on the board, Reed said.

During the Monday meeting, board members Patricia Burkhart and Dr. Cindy Derer expressed concern that Gray has not been more actively involved in recent months. Gray is a member of the board of health but has not attended any recent public meetings.

"If the health department is a priority, the representation needs to be there," said Burkhart.

Reed defended Gray's involvement saying the mayor has been actively involved in health department issues behind the scenes.

Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3261.

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