But who’s going to sue them?

This editorial from the Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 issue of the Daily Sentinel is reprinted here with permission from the publisher. The original editorial is on the Sentinel’s website here. The added graphics are AnneLandmanBlog’s own embellishments.

By violating Colorado’s 2008 Public Health Act, Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland has captured the Board of Public Health and put herself in a position to push her personal religious views and political whims onto the agency

Mesa County commissioners would like their constituents to believe they are “by the book” policy makers.

But they’re willing to toss the book out the window if it interferes with their fever to micromanage Mesa County Public Health.

The latest twist in the commissioners’ slow, indelicate and legally questionable takeover of the public health board is that commissioners now control the agenda of what is supposed to be an independent body.

Pretty slick. Commissioners did it with the full cooperation of a new health board it installed after the old one resigned en masse when it became clear commissioners intended to revoke their appointments for not acquiescing to the commissioners’ demand to fire MCPH Executive Director Dr. Jeff Kuhr.

This isn’t how public health authority is supposed to work in Colorado. Commissioners appoint the health board. But after that, the board of health is to operate autonomously, immunized from the influence of the county, which is a far too political body to be trusted to oversee something as important as public health.

Importantly, there is no apparent authority of the county commission to remove members of the board of health once appointed (pdf). The board is to be self-governing. Indeed, it seems that what the county has done is expressly forbidden. The statute says: “Appointments shall be made to the board so that no business or professional group or governmental entity shall constitute a majority of the board.”

Janet Rowland stacked the new Board of Public Health with her own hand-picked friends and minions, including anti-vaxxers, who will do whatever she tells them to do

But there’s no difference between that and just making the health board a puppet of the county, which is what commissioners have done.

The fact that they’ve needed an intergovernmental agreement to stipulate the terms of their working relationship is proof that the health department is a separate and distinct entity from the county.

At least it was. The new intergovernmental agreement calls for county workers to review matters the public health board plans to consider before it can place them on its own agenda. The health board is now a step removed from independent decision-making. Commissioners are the gatekeepers.

But the new intergovernmental agreement is just an exclamation point — an outcome that was all too predictable when commissioners hand-picked a new public health board that includes Commissioner Janet Rowland.

At the time Rowland had herself appointed to the health board (and before the old board resigned), we observed, “…there’s nothing wrong with a commissioner serving on a local health board. But cynicism begets cynicism and it’s hard to ignore the possibility that Rowland’s appointment is a first step toward stacking the health board to deliver commissioner-approved outcomes.”

We would argue that MCPH — recognized for having one of the best COVID responses in the state, if not the nation — delivered a practical framework to keep the county as open as possible precisely because it had the authority to act quickly and decisively. Trying to formulate a response to another wave of COVID just got harder with this extra layer of bureaucracy. And maybe that was the point all along.

The Board of Mesa County Commissioners who violated state law to attack and remove the Board of Public Health and long time Mesa County Public Health Department Director Dr. Jeff Kuhr. (L-R: Bobbie Daniel, Cody Davis and Janet Rowland. Photo: Mesa County)

We still think the old health board should have let the commissioners revoke their appointments because the resulting lawsuit would have forced the county to defend a potentially illegal action and provided some clarity about public health authority.

Instead, we now have a body of mush. No dedicated health professional will want to work as an executive director in a diminished capacity — where their expertise is secondary to commissioners’ political considerations.

A lawsuit is still the best bet to blow up this sham. But it would have to come from a private group or citizens. Who wants the expense and headache?


  13 comments for “But who’s going to sue them?

  1. No matter what they do now, Rowland has begun the total destruction of a public health system that was working for this community.
    I stated after Rowland added herself to the MCPH board, that she would destroy this precious healthcare system.
    Public health MUST REMAIN NIMBLE!!!! The very essence of public health is based on a moving target of health vs illness. If every decision to be made regarding existing and future programs is to be vetted by the BOCC before it even gets on the agenda of the MCPH board, this community no longer has a professional working responsive public health system.
    Programs now in place will be lost to lack of response to time limits for dedicated money. Staff will start resigning now, if that has not already begun. The Nursing staff is highly vulnerable to resignations as they can be easily absorbed into the general healthcare population. Volunteers will melt away. I volunteered before Kuhr took over, but had to leave as I was being asked to do things that an RN volunteer should not do. When the staff is lethally thinned out, professionals that volunteer will have this problem again.
    As an RN with years of experience in these type of settings, I grieve the lose of our public health system. There will be NO CREDIBLE Executive Director to take over, as no professional, worth their salt and knowledge will take this position with such restraints.

  2. Let’s not look to the CDPHE to got off their high horse here; as there hasn’t been a single piece of press/evidence/etc in the last few years they’re doing anything more than protecting their own byzantine bureaucracy at the expense of the Environment & Public Health.

    This County Commissioner Clown Car is going to crash and drunk on power have installed themselves squarely behind the wheel to get all the blame. These aren’t competent people either; they’re simply reading the finger paintings and crayon playbook of their political puppeteers. Because problem with the GOP predilection for committing High Crimes and Misdemeanors is their reliance on a network of sycophants and cronies….folks far too inept to cover their tracks adequately or accept any responsibility for their collective misdeeds when the chips fall. And since Todd Starr is certainly no legal eagle either, it’s really just a matter of time before this whole cesspool smothers itself. So I’d say is really up to this community of free-thinking citizens to keep the focus on these mouthbreathers…to expose every instance of their outright greed, self-interested dealing, disinformation, dismatling of resources, and outright corruption all at the taxpayers expense.

    Mark my words, sooner than later…Janet will have another stroke, maybe mid-sentence like her doddering hero Mitchy McC, and/or Cody and Bobbie will be snared up in some scandal due to their own stupid hubris.

  3. And I looked for our State Rep and Senator… and then said to myself, well, this needs to be fixed at the ballot box! We need State laws to fix this and laws that have teeth! and I don’t mean false teeth!

  4. If the County Commissioners were so deeply interested in Public Health they should study the field and get a degree in it. Instead of parading their hubris in a field they clearly are NOT qualified to intercede in. I appreciate the editorial from the Sentinel as this appears to be the tyranny of Rowland in local government (supported by other CC) which was designed to be outside of this influence. CDPHE has no power here and have their own issues.
    So now they will dictate the agendas of the Health Board they dismantled and suppress. How do the very few qualified members feel about that? Guess we will never know. Where is this playbook coming from and what is the end game? It seem pretty familiar of GOP destructive strategy we see playing out in the impending government shutdown. We all need to monitor WHO this new HD Board is serving.

  5. Janet Rowland must have had to think long and hard about how to pull this off while walking the very thin knife edge of legality. So, who can sue?

    Too bad we have only one commissioner making decisions even though there are three bodies present. Seems only one spine between them.

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