NEW ALBANY — The Floyd County Commissioners declined to certify Dr. Tom Harris as the county’s health officer Tuesday, but what happens after his term ends Dec. 31 is unclear.
After initially tabling the certification in November, the commissioners voted 2-1 to not certify Harris, who has been the Floyd County Health Officer since 2006.
However, the Floyd County Board of Health has voted unanimously twice to appoint Harris to another term.
Rick Fox, attorney for both the commissioners and the board of health, said previously the state statute isn’t specific as to what occurs if a health officer is appointed but not certified.
Indiana Code 16-20-2-16 states that once a health board appoints a health officer, who must be a licensed physician, the appointment “shall be certified by the county executive and sent to the state department.”
The News and Tribune sent a request to the media relations department for the Indiana State Department of Health late Tuesday afternoon seeking clarification of the process. No information has yet been made available.
As for the decision, commissioners John Schellenberger and Shawn Carruthers voted in favor of not certifying Harris. Commissioner Tim Kamer voted against the motion to not certify Harris. There was no discussion about the issue before the vote was taken.
Harris did speak during the public comments portion of the meeting. He said he wanted to use the time to mention some “inconvenient truths” about what had transpired.
According to Harris, neither Schellenberger, whose wife is a part-time employee at the Floyd County Health Department where she serves as a public health nurse, or Carruthers had spoken directly to him about COVID-19 issues since Aug. 12.
“The commissioners, the same two commissioners, are also clearly ignoring the opinion and repetitive vote of the board of health, which is comprised by individuals knowledgeable about health in our community,” Harris said.
“There has not been due diligence done because of this lack of due process and effective communication.”
Harris declined to comment further after the meeting, and the commissioners didn’t address his statement.
Schellenberger and Carruthers released a joint statement Tuesday night regarding the vote in which they said they will work with local officials to ensure the pandemic response is a top priority.
“We believe the time is now to begin a new chapter for the Health Department,” the statement reads.
“We have every confidence that the department staff, working closely with Baptist Floyd and the Indiana Department of Health, will continue to effectively serve our county as we manage the difficult weeks ahead and eagerly anticipate the vaccines that are hopefully not far off.”
Harris has pledged that he will continue to work diligently to combat the pandemic until his term expires, as vaccines could arrive in Floyd County as early as mid-December.
Carruthers and Schellenberger said in their statement that the commissioners “look forward to partnering with the Health Board to develop a plan going forward; collaborating with local communities and local government.”
They also called on the health department to begin a “thorough search for a new Health Officer at its December meeting.”
Kamer attended the meeting virtually as he said he’s in quarantine through the rest of the week. In a phone interview Tuesday night, Kamer said he didn’t agree with not certifying Harris. Kamer had tabled the certification last month as he said he wanted additional time to garner more information about the issue.
The board of health and the commissioners met in executive session at least once over the last two weeks.
“I think we could have taken a different approach, but I won’t go into much detail other than that,” Kamer said.