SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane County Board of Health voted 8-4 to terminate Dr. Bob Lutz as health officer at a special meeting on Thursday.
The vote came after a meeting that lasted for nearly four-and-a-half hours. It included comments from Spokane Regional Health District Administrative Officer Amelia Clark and Dr. Lutz, questioning from board members and a lengthy executive session that was closed to the public.
KREM provided live updates throughout the meeting and after. The latest developments in this story are below.
9:17 p.m.: Bryce Wilcox, an attorney with Lee & Hayes representing Lutz, released a statement after the meeting, saying he will "pursue all claims and remedies available to him under the law for SRHD's wrongful termination."
The full statement reads:
"While Dr. Lutz is disappointed with the outcome of today’s hearing, he is not surprised. It was clear since last Thursday when he was summarily and wrongfully fired, leaving Spokane without a health official, that the outcome of today’s hearing was a mere formality. Despite statements made by some members of the Board, Dr. Lutz believes his termination was without reasonable cause and was politically motivated in retaliation for unpopular Covid-19 decisions he made this year. He will pursue all claims and remedies available to him under the law for SRHD’s wrongful termination.
Dr. Lutz is greatly appreciative of the overwhelming support he has received from both the public and his employees."
9:07 p.m.: Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a letter to the board Thursday morning that she supported the decision to fire Lutz. Woodward's spokesperson Brian Coddington later clarified that the letter was about "partnership and collaboration" going forward in the response to the pandemic.
In the letter, she said her first reaction to the news of his firing last Thursday was that it was "the best news I've heard in a long time."
8:45 p.m.: The three Spokane City Councilmembers on the county health board, President Breean Beggs and members Betsy Wilkerson and Karen Stratton, released statements on Lutz's firing on Thursday night. They are replicated in full below:
Beggs: “My vote tonight to keep Dr. Lutz in his position as our Health Officer was based on the answer to a simple question- what would keep Spokane safer and healthier? I have seen first-hand the hard work that both Dr. Lutz and Amelia Clark have put into the SRHD, especially since March. Dr. Lutz has been the face of public health in our community during these difficult months and I do not believe that a difficult relationship between two individuals within the SRHD should put the health of our greater community at risk. I do not agree with the process that was undertaken to terminate Dr. Lutz, and I will work hard to update our procedures to make sure that the Health Officer can always speak the medical truth to our community.”
Stratton: “It feels like two people that were doing the best job they know how and who were both committed and compassionate about their community, yet it just didn’t work out. We owe it to our community to always put their health and well-being first, and as a Board member that is my commitment, to consider the safety of Spokane.”
Wilkerson: “Despite the internal differences, the community wants and needs to feel safe. My vote to keep Dr. Lutz was rooted in being a voice for our community to continue the uninterrupted path in keeping Spokane safe. As we approach future uncertainty of a global pandemic, I will commit to ensure that the Board has defined and transparent processes going forward.”
8:40 p.m.: The PROTEC17 Union, which represents SRHD employees, officially held and passed a vote of no confidence in Clark over her handling of Lutz's termination. The vote was passed by a supermajority.
Of the about 300 SRHD employees, 171 are part of the union and 121 approved the vote of no confidence, according to a union representative.
The union also called for the termination of Clark's employment and for Lutz to continue as health officer.
Many union members were also quoted as being shocked at the news and said it was "dishonest."
8:15 p.m.: The Washington Board of Health is set to hear two complaints against Amelia Clark at its meeting on Nov. 9. One of the complaints is from former Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, while the other is signed by four doctors.
Dr. Lutz serves on the Washington Board of Health.
7:17 p.m.: Dr. Velasquez has been appointed interim health officer until the next regularly scheduled board meeting on Dec. 3. The meeting was then adjourned.
7:08 p.m.: Commissioner French made a motion to appoint Dr. Frank Velasquez as interim health officer. Council Member Wilkerson expressed concern about the process to find the candidate because they were just given information about them.
7:04 p.m.: Spokane County Board of Health votes 8-4 to terminate Dr. Lutz.
Commissioners French, Kerns and Kuney, Spokane Valley City Council Member Linda Thompson, Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick, Millwood Mayor Kevin Freeman, Board Member Andrea Frostad and Spokane Valley City Councilman Chuck Hafner voted to fire Dr. Lutz.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, Council Members Karen Stratton and Betsy Wilkerson, and Board Member Jason Kinley voted to retain Lutz as health officer.
6:55 p.m.: Spokane Valley City Councilman Chuck Hafner echoes Freeman's sentiments that the board is at fault, adding that members should work to ensure that difficulties do not continue.
6:52 p.m.: Millwood Mayor and Board Member Kevin Freeman blamed the health board for not finding a way for Clark and Lutz to work together.
6:45 p.m.: Commissioner Josh Kerns said the allegations presented at the meeting are "very serious."
6:42 p.m.: Council Member Stratton said both Clark and Lutz are doing a good job in their respective roles. However, Clark has missed several opportunities help the situation, including using a facilitator and delivering a corrective action plan, she said. Stratton said she would vote to retain Lutz.
6:41 p.m.: Spokane City Council Member Karen Stratton expressed concerns over the lack of a corrective action plan before Lutz's firing.
6:36 p.m.: Council Member Wilkerson said she would not vote to terminate Dr. Lutz.
6:34 p.m.: City Council Member Betsy Wilkerson said the process has been "unacceptable" as a Board of Health. She said she has heard about "personal and professional differences" between Lutz and Clark.
6:31 p.m.: Beggs said he will vote to retain Lutz, saying he has done a "great job" protecting the public health of the Spokane community.
6:30 p.m.: Beggs said to members of the public who have reached out to him, "We hear you. We understand that you are concerned about the health of community and you care very little about the communications that are going on within an agency."
6:27 p.m.: Council President Beggs said Clark and Lutz "see their lanes a little differently." He suggested that the Board of Health go back to the drawing board to "define those lanes."
6:24 p.m.: "I really encourage people to presume good intentions, and I know how hard that is when life and death are literally at stake," Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said. He added that the process regarding Lutz's employment has pitted people against each other, and presented fear and misunderstanding.
6:23 p.m.: Another board member emphasized Lutz has done everything asked of him in the public setting but internal challenges within the department are posing issues.
6:22 p.m.: Commissioner French said he believes Clark has "more than met the threshold" to terminate Lutz's employment.
6:20 p.m.: Commissioner French read a meeting from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich expressing frustrating about Lutz's "inability" to make decisions.
6:15 p.m.: Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns motioned to terminate Lutz's employment effective immediately.
4:56 p.m.: The meeting adjourned into executive session for approximately 15 minutes. This was then extended until 6:15 p.m.
4:46 p.m.: When asked if she has respect for Lutz, Clark gave a delayed answer. Lutz said it's hard to respect someone when they don't respect you.
4:40 p.m.: Dr. Lutz denied making sexist comments and said accusations are misrepresented. He said he never touched a female employee on the neck, adding he touched her on the arm while asking a question. He said human resources never met with him about "massaging a woman's neck."
4:36 p.m.: Council President Beggs asked Clark and Lutz if they would have participated in a meeting with a third-party facilitator in June and if they would do so now.
Clark said she doesn't know if the two of them "could come back from this." Lutz answered yes to both questions.
Clark also said Lutz had requested mediation in June.
4:33 p.m.: Mayor Freeman asked Lutz to elaborate on emails that he would send to the community regarding his supervisor.
In response, Lutz referenced an email to the previous Washington Secretary of Health where he said Clark was "in over her head" in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
4:29 p.m.: Spokane City Council Member Betsy Wilkerson said she has not seen copies of any emails sent by Lutz to community members that were disparaging toward Clark.
4:28 p.m.: Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns asked Lutz if the women who made accusations against him should be believed. Lutz said anyone who makes an accusation like that should be believed.
4:25 p.m.: After a question from Council President Beggs, Clark clarified that Lutz was no longer serving in the capacity of health officer after her meeting with him on Thursday, Oct. 29.
4:22 p.m.: Clark said she did not share her corrective action plan with Lutz before firing him.
4:20 p.m.: Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs asked Clark why board members did not get a corrective action plan and instead received a termination notice.
"In our conversation, I felt like the corrective action plan wasn't going to be effective," Clark said in response.
4:17 p.m.: Spokane City Council Member and Board Member Betsy Wilkerson and said there was insufficient documentation regarding the reasons for Lutz's dismissal and asked about the pattern of behavior that is most critical.
Clark responded by saying it is "very concerning" that Lutz brings his grievances about her to other people before discussing them directly with her.
4:14 p.m.: Spokane City Council Member and Board Member Karen Stratton asked Clark if she made this decision to favor people who want the county to move forward in reopenifng.
Clark said this is not the case and moving to Phase 3 of reopening is impossible.
4:09 p.m.: One board member scolded Dr. Lutz, reminding him Clark is his boss. The board member said Lutz making decisions without Clark's knowledge is "unacceptable," adding that they need to work together.
4:04 p.m.: Mayor Freeman asked Lutz if he asked for the language to be changed in the job posting. Lutz said he did not.
4:02 p.m.: In response to an accusation leveled by Clark, Lutz said he suggested that a colleague in the community apply for a position at the health district. This person reached out to him after he did not hear back from human resources and Lutz then reached out asking for additional information.
3:56 p.m.: Millwood Mayor Kevin Freeman, who serves on the Board of Health, asked Lutz whether he believes he has collaborated well with Clark.
"I think both of us would be hard-pressed to say we've been collaborating well," Lutz said in response.
During a meeting in June, both parties did not come up with a plan to address issues between them, Lutz said.
3:52 p.m.: Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs reminded board members to ask questions rather than offer opinions.
3:51 p.m.: Spokane County Commissioner Al French, who serves on the Board of Health, said, "One thing that I think you cannot unwind is the credibility and integrity of the agency when our health officer is violating the governor's orders in regards to 'stay-home.'"
French said he doesn't know how the health district could regain its credibility in the community.
3:50 p.m.: Councilmember Karen Stratton asks if mediation between the two parties is possible, adding that she fears the Spokane Regional Health District will lose either Clark or Lutz.
3:47 p.m.: The termination of Dr. Lutz "without significant cause" would be a violation of Washington state law, his attorney said.
3:42 p.m.: Lutz said his decisions, "while not universally supported," have been based on the science available to him, guidance from the Department of Health and governor's office, and the local situation.
3:39 p.m.: Lutz said he has stayed true to his position as health officer, enforcing the public health statutes in Washington state.
3:38 p.m.: Lutz said the mobile hotspot for his vacation home was $217, which he paid for, and he did not think it was bad to reward hardworking staff with food.
He also admitted he can be seen as a "curmudgeon" and said he looks forward to creating a strong working relationship with local health leaders.
3:36 p.m.: "You've heard and provided information today that accuses me of a number of offenses deemed egregious enough to require my immediate removal as local health officer," Lutz said.
Lutz said he has submitted a response showing inaccuracies and misrepresentations of many offenses and providing context for others. He said he assumes that board members have received his written response and hopes it will be available to the public.
3:29 p.m.: Bryce Wilcox, the attorney for Dr. Lutz, says complaints involved in the situation related to his firing were only provided to him a short time ago.
3:23 p.m.: On Nov. 26, 2018, Dr. Lutz was counseled regarding a complaint received by HR that he had massaged a female employee's neck and put his knee behind her knee, Clark said. Complaints also alleged that Lutz grabbed employee's nametags.
Dr. Lutz acknowledged that he had touched the employee's shoulder and grabbed nametags, but did not grab them at chest level, Clark said.
Lutz also promised jobs to personal acquaintances before the health district posted positions, according to Clark.
3:15 p.m.: Clark also cited "lack of communication" and "inappropriate communication" as reasons for asking for Dr. Lutz's resignation. She said Lutz was a no-show on meetings and walked out of meetings related to the county's COVID-19 response.
"I have witnessed Dr. Lutz's refusal to work with, talk to or acknowledge staff with whom he is angry. The cold shoulder and silent treatment are unprofessional and unacceptable in a professional employee," Clark said. "Dr. Lutz has directly stated to me that he does not want to be part of a team, that he should not be micromanaged and he does not want to report to anyone."
Employees have also complained to Clark and human resources that Lutz chastises them for beliefs who don't align with their own, she said. Clark added that he talks to female staff in a "belittling and sexist way."
Clark said she also received complaints from the public that Lutz was at a protest on May 31 and thus did not set an "appropriate example."
Clark also cited "financial misappropriations," such as presenting an invoice to the health district for a mobile hotspot at his vacation rental and buying food for staff, as a reason for asking the board for Lutz's resignation.
3:08 p.m.: Clark cited "insubordination" as one of the "performance issues" that led her to ask for Lutz's termination.
Clark said Lutz drafted a letter to Eastern Washington University on SRHD letterhead expressing his disapproval of the university's decision to cut its undergraduate public health program. He did not advise Clark of his intent to write the letter nor did he use the agency process for letters of support, she said.
Lutz then sent an email to staff saying such letters should need the administrator's approval, Clark said.
Clark also claimed that Dr. Lutz circumvented her on purchasing items for homeless shelter operated by the Salvation Army.
SRHD also eliminated a project position whose duties consisted of coordinating meetings, Clark said. She claimed that Lutz misrepresented to the board that SRHD was losing a program by the elimination of the position, she said.
Clark said she also counseled Lutz not to contact legislators and board members as health officer regarding issues related to SRHD operations without consulting her, but he did so anyway.
3:05 p.m.: A meeting attendee announced that both Clark and Lutz will have up to 30 minutes to speak, followed by questions from the board. No decisions or votes will be taken during the executive session. If there is a motion and a second when the board returns to an open meeting, there will be the option for a vote.
3:03 p.m.: Spokane County Board of Health Chair Ben Wick, who also serves as Spokane Valley Mayor, called the meeting to order.
1:50 p.m.: Protesters have gathered outside the Spokane Regional Health District building ahead of the board's meeting. One demonstrator held a sign with the message, “Amelia quit trying to kill us! Fire Amelia! We trust Dr. Lutz.” She said into a bullhorn, “Don’t play games with our lives.”