A narrow majority of the Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to send a letter to the Florida Department of Health to urge the removal of Gulf County Health Department executive director Marsha Lindeman.
Commissioner Carmen McLemore, expressing displeasure with the direction of the department and the outcome of an investigation into a recent termination at the Gulf County Health Department, requested the BOCC send the letter.
He was joined by Commissioners Tan Smiley and Warren Yeager. Commissioner Bill Williams dissented and Commissioner Ward McDaniel abstained based on a conflict.
The matter spilled into the regular bi-monthly BOCC regular meeting when Willie Ramsey, representing a committee appointed by the BOCC, reported on the findings and recommendations from an investigation into the recent firing of a 25-year employee of the Health Department.
Ramsey reported that the committee found that an issue existed, that the extent of the investigation was stymied marginally by the fact that the employee was a state, not county, employee and that the committee unanimously supported the termination.
“We recommend that no action be taken on this termination and that the board should consider expanding the committee to include members of the health department,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey stressed that the Health Department is a state agency and that the committee was limited as to the extent it could examine state personnel records. But all information provided by local and state health officials supported the termination.
McLemore, however, disagreed.
He said a 25-year employee should not be fired without full cause and that his own investigation had not uncovered that cause. He said while the employee may have received a paycheck from the state, they were still a county constituent.
“We have to take care of our own people,” McLemore said. “Ever since (Lindeman, who took over some two years ago) has taken over this health department we’ve had major issues. We need to do something about that.
“Tallahassee don’t know our people, we do.”
McLemore said the issues would not be as pronounced if a local candidate had been named health director – Lindeman was hired out of the Tallahassee office after the BOCC recommended Wewahitchka resident Jim McKnight to the DOH – and urged the board to make their feelings known.
Williams, who was a member of the committee that reviewed the termination, cautioned that, as the BOCC learned two years ago during the hiring of a replacement for former health director Doug Kent, the BOCC has limited say in DOH operations.
He said that the Health Department has taken massive budget cuts over the past two years and those cuts are impacting services and personnel. He said much of the issues uncovered in examining the termination – poor work attitude with patients, scheduling problems, follow-up appointments – could be more easily traced to cost constraints.
“The fact of the matter is that Doug Kent built a healthcare delivery model here that the state is moving away from,” Williams said. “These additional programs and additional personnel are going to be cut.”
Williams also said that he agreed with the committee’s recommendation to expand membership to include Health Department staff and to allow that staff to feel they have a voice with the BOCC without fear of retaliation.
County attorney Jeremy Novak said the BOCC certainly had a voice in the process, but ultimately personnel decisions, such as the health director, would come down to a decision in Tallahassee, not in Gulf County.
The board approved spending $105,000 on repairs to the old county courthouse in Wewahitchka to address leaking walls in the back of the building, where the Extension Service is located.
On a temporary basis, the Extension Service will locate to the old Health Department building across the street while renovations to address leaking and mold is undertaken.
During a public hearing on Monday, the BOCC adopted a tentative millage rate and budget for the coming fiscal year.
The final budget hearing will be at 5:01 p.m. ET on Monday, Sept. 24 in the BOCC meeting room.
The millage rate set Monday was 6.0553 (minus Municipal Services Tax Units for beach renourishment), which represents a cut of taxes of 7.74 percent. The rollback rate, that which would bring in the same amount of ad valorem revenue as this year, was 6.5631.
A mil represents $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.
The gulf-front MSTU millage is 6.6693, down more than 3 percent and the interior gulf MSTU millage is 3.5014, a decrease of less than one percent. The local bond on the beach renourishment will be paid off this fiscal year.
Commissioners also amended an earlier motion to match dollar for dollar the city of Port St. Joe’s contribution to the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce/Economic Development Council.
The county and city will each pay $20,000 to the agency.