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SRHD Board approves Dr. Frank Velazquez as new health officer

The open position comes after the firing of Dr. Bob Lutz in November of 2020. The decision has been subject to an ongoing debate.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health (BOH) unanimously decided on Wednesday to hire interim health officer Dr. Frank Velazquez as the official Spokane County Health Officer.

The Spokane Regional Health District BOH has approved the new health officer recommendation and his salary of roughly $247,000 at a 12 p.m. meeting on Wednesday. Dr. Velazquez has served as the interim health officer since November of 2020.

At a meeting on Sept. 30, the BOH shared that SRHD would hold four interviews for the health officer position. Administrative Officer Amelia Clark would then make a recommendation to the board on who she thinks should be hired. 

The open position comes after the firing of Dr. Bob Lutz in November of 2020. The decision has been subject to an ongoing debate.  

Lutz's sudden departure came after the county BOH asked for his resignation, citing "personnel issues." Clark said she brought concerns about Lutz to the board during an executive session in October 2020.

Lutz said Clark fired him, in violation of state law which states he can only be fired by a public vote of the board. 

The health district initially said the health board had given Clark its approval to ask for Lutz to step down, but later clarified that the health board hadn't voted on whether to terminate Lutz or made any decisions related to his employment.

The executive team at SRHD was notified on Thursday evening that Lutz was no longer an employee, while staff were notified before 8 a.m. on Friday Oct. 30, 2020, according to Clark.

The board voted 8-4 in favor of his termination on Nov. 5, 2020. The same night, they unanimously approved a new interim health officer, Dr. Frank Velazquez. 

To add to the controversy, Clark was under investigation by the Washington State Board of Health to determine whether or not she violated state law by firing Lutz. Clark has said she merely told him to resign or she would recommend to the board that they fire him.

The health district initially said the health board had given Clark its approval to ask for Lutz to step down, but later clarified that the health board hadn't voted on whether to terminate Lutz or made any decisions related to his employment.

Dr. Lutz is now working as a member of the the Washington State Department of Health's COVID-19 Response Team.