If Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland gets her way, the new, temporary members recently intstalled on the Mesa County Board of Public Health (BOPH) will do the Commissioners’ bidding and fire longtime Mesa County Health Department Director Dr. Jeff Kuhr, even though there is insufficient evidence of any financial wrongdoing by Kuhr and even though a large majority of the local public thinks the county commissioners are engaging in a blatant overreach of their authority.
The BOPH is scheduled to meet this Monday, June 5, at 1:00 p.m. at the Workforce Center in Business Center D. Item #9 on their agenda is to “Consider appointment of interim director” of the Health Department.
This portends the firing Jeff Kuhr after 12 years of public service as an effective Director of the Mesa County Public Health Department and a person who won Citizen of the Year in 2021 for helping get our community through the pandemic, and all for no substantiated reason.
Firing Kuhr will likely cost taxpayers even more — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars more than this fight has already cost — in severance money that will be paid to Kuhr as well as for the County to fight threatened lawsuit. Kuhr has retained Tim Foster as his attorney and has said if he is fired he will likely sue the county for defamation of character, harassment and hostile workplace, at a minimum.
The Monday, June 5 meeting is open to the public. It will be at the Workforce Center at located at 519 29 1/2 Road, on the north side of the Health and Human Services building, which is on the corner of North and 29 1/2. To get to Business Center D, it would be best to enter on the north side of the Workforce Center. However, there are people who will guide folks to the room from the south entrance as well.
District Attorney: “insufficient evidence” of wrongdoing by Kuhr
The County Commissioners spent $49,000 of taxpayer money on a financial audit of Kuhr that showed the Health Department has failed to follow the County’s procurement procedures to the letter. They also found Kuhr spent $219 in government funds on alcohol at a team-building dinner held for his employees as the pandemic was resolving. Buying alcohol with government funds is not allowed. Kuhr admitted the error and has long since paid back the $219. After these items were discovered, on May 12 the Commissioners and BOPH agreed in writing to a set of measures that would assure procurements by the Health Department would follow County policy more closely in the future, but the commissioners have refused to give that agreement a chance and resumed working to push Kuhr out.
Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, who investigated the Commissioners’ claims of financial wrongdoing by Kuhr, announced on May 27th that he found insufficient evidence of any financial wrongdoing by Kuhr, and had officially closed the case against him.
Rowland got herself appointed as the 5th member of the BOPH, as a way to put even more pressure on the BOPH to fire Kuhr.
Four former members of the BOPH — Will Hays, Errol Snider, Gretchen Gore and Deborah Monaghan — all resigned on May 24, 2023 en masse to protest the Commissioners’ threat to fire them if they refused to fire Kuhr — a move that would likely have been illegal under Colorado law. They all believed there was insufficient evidence to fire Kuhr.
Why is Janet Rowland working so hard to fire Kuhr?
We can only speculate, but after taking office in 2021, Rowland announced in an article in the Daily Sentinel that she was going to populate her “cabinet” with people who agree with her personal ideology. Rowland campaigned for office in 2020 in large part by showcasing her antipathy towards public health. During her campaign, and before Covid vaccines were available, Rowland railed against Covid-19 precautions like masking and social distancing, and spread disinformation about Covid-19 on her social media accounts that was linked to QAnon.
Rowland’s Facebook posts claimed Covid-19 was no more deadly than the flu. She agitated against the temporary shutdown of non-essential businesses, one of the only tools available at the time to limit the spread of what then was a highly communicable and deadly virus. Rowland also promoted Alex Jones’ “InfoWars” conspiracy theory that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was intentionally inflating the number of Covid deaths, claiming hospitals got more funding if people died of Covid.
Now Rowland is dead-set on taking over the Mesa County Public Health Department in order to install someone as Director who thinks like she does. Her previous terms as county commissioner were also marked by a high churn in department heads. During Janet Rowland’s previous time as county commissioner (2005-2015), the county had three different administrators and four different DHS directors.
The Monday, June 5 BOPH meeting is open to the public. The Workforce Center is at 519 29 1/2 Road, on the north side of the Health and Human Services building, which is on the corner of North and 29 1/2. To get to that conference room it would be best to enter on the north side of the Workforce Center. However, people will guide folks to the room from the south entrance as well. Here’s the agenda: