EDITOR’S NOTE: We are in unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Floyd County Commissioners made, we believe, a dangerous and unwarranted decision to remove Dr. Tom Harris as county health officer. Following is our opinion on the subject. We welcome your feedback.
A plane needs a pilot; a ship needs a captain; and Floyd County residents, who — like all humans on planet Earth — are fighting for their lives in the middle of a pandemic, need a health officer to guide them.
Dr. Tom Harris was that directional beacon, until Tuesday, when county commissioners on a 2-1 vote decided to replace him. Commissioners John Schellenberger and Shawn Carruthers voted in favor of the motion to not certify Harris, while Tim Kamer voted against it.
We are at a critical juncture in the battle to overcome COVID-19, which as of this writing has claimed 1,488,120 lives worldwide (per World Health Organization), 5,748 Hoosiers — 79 of them in Floyd County (per Indiana Department of Health).
A vaccine is promised by month’s end; however, crucial decisions are being made locally on who will get the first doses — CDC guidelines say healthcare workers and the most-vulnerable elderly — and the logistics of administering them.
An ill-timed hiccup or a misinformed decision by a rookie health officer could jeopardize health and potentially cost lives.
In the void of any meaningful information from commissioners on why the decision to oust Harris was made, we must ask the question on the minds of many: Why? And more specifically, why now?
The public deserves to hear the answer to that question. Commissioners, however, have been reluctant to be on-record with the reasons for their vote. They seem comfortable letting public speculation, which inherently centers on politics, run rampant.
Their lack of transparency is glaring. No comments were made, and they took no public input, before voting to expel Harris.
News and Tribune reporting shows Harris responded quickly and decisively to the pandemic, enacting early measures on mask wearing and encouraging other preventive measures.
There is no doubt that his actions helped save the lives of Floyd County residents.
Harris has served as health officer since 2006 He has the experience needed during this health crisis.
But, acknowledging there could be deficiencies in his job performance of which we are unaware, were they discussed with Harris? Did commissioners outline where they felt he fell short of expectations and afford him the opportunity to improve?
The Board of Health — comprised of medical professionals — on Oct. 26 unanimously approved Harris’ recertification as health officer. The Board clearly has the expertise to make that appointment.
State statute declares commissioners “shall” certify the appointment made by the local health board.
Short of having tangible evidence that Harris was unfit to continue as health officer, commissioners should have acted in the best interests of Floyd County residents and signed off on his reappointment.
As it stands, it appears they have ignored due process and common sense in favor of political posturing.
The News and Tribune Editorial Board members are Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Susan Duncan, and Senior Reporter Daniel Suddeath.