SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Regional Health Board is investigating how Spokane alt-weekly publication, the Inlander, was able to obtain and publish an email sent by the board’s attorney regarding the firing of former Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz, according to a statement sent on Friday morning.
On July 30, the Inlander published a story about an email from SRHD Board of Health attorney Michelle Fossum sent to health board members at 5:40 p.m. on Oct. 29 saying, “Please be advised that Amelia (Clark) has terminated Dr. Lutz's employment. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to her or to me, but do not 'reply all' to this email."
KREM 2 requested a copy of the email through a public records request but the contents of the email were redacted, claiming attorney client privilege. All SRHD Board members received the email.
SRHD Administrator Amelia Clark is currently under investigation by the Washington State Board of Health to determine whether or not she violated state law by firing Lutz. The board voted in June to move forward with a formal hearing. The board also voted unanimously to hire an administrative law judge to preside over the hearing. The judge would not issue any initial or final orders, but would instead guide the process and make sure it follows protocols.
In a statement, the SRHD board claims the email was protected under attorney client privilege.
“It remains under investigation how the Inlander obtained that email as there was no inadvertent disclosure made to the Inlander in its public records requests,” the statement reads.
SRHD says the publishing of the email “adds to the public’s confusion surrounding the October 29th meeting between Dr. Clark, Dr. Lutz and then BOH Chair Ben Wick.” They also stand by the claim that Dr. Lutz was terminated lawfully on Nov. 5, 2020.
The Spokane Regional Board of Health (BOH) does not agree with statements made by various individuals who have alleged Administrative Officer Dr. Amelia Clark terminated Dr. Bob Lutz in violation of Washington State law. Dr. Lutz was terminated by the BOH in an open public meeting on November 5, 2020, as required by law.
The day after Fossum sent the email about Lutz's termination, SRHD sent out a press release that shocked many in the community, saying Lutz had been asked to resign. It read in part, "Yesterday, the Spokane County Board of Health asked Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz to resign." In a turbulent press conference that same day, district officials repeatedly evaded questions about whether Lutz had resigned or been fired. But when asked to clarify whether Lutz was considered an employee of SRHD, spokesperson Kelli Hawkins responded, "as of today, no he is not."
On Oct. 31, 2020, Lutz broke his silence. He hired a lawyer and announced he was not resigning, and that his status within the district was unclear, even to him. Protesters gathered outside the health district's offices to show their support for Lutz.
Five days later, the Spokane Board of Health held a special meeting to decide Lutz’s fate. Clark unveiled a litany of personal and professional misconduct allegations against Lutz.
"It is clear to me that Dr. Lutz is unwilling to make the necessary changes to be a successful part of the Spokane Regional Health District team moving forward," she said before calling for his termination.
Lutz and his lawyer argued the allegations were trivial compared to the importance of having a competent professional in the role of health officer during a pandemic.
"You will find that they in no way constitute a reasonable basis to fire me," Lutz said of the accusations in his opening statement.
The board disagreed, voting 8-4 in favor of his termination. The same night, they unanimously approved a new interim health officer, Dr. Frank Velazquez. Most board members appeared to be unfamiliar with Velazquez.
The Inlander reports that Fossum sent the Board of Health a letter around that time that said, “Administrator Clark did meet with Dr. Lutz on Thursday, October 29. She gave Dr. Lutz until Friday, October 30 at 4:00 to resign or she would seek his termination. She did take 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."