Sound Off: County needs to respond, in public, in detail

  • Friday, January 15, 2021 11:51am
  • Opinion

This newspaper published an editorial on Dec. 29, “Public Health nurse exodus is cause for reckoning.”

The editorial was a measured response to the resignation of most of Island County’s public health nurses along with their supervisor and the health officer.

These resignations resulted in the collapse of the County’s ability to perform COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing.

The editorial made the simple point: A public accounting is required when important county functions “go awry.”

The editorial was an invitation for constructive county response, but for some reason Commissioner Janet St. Clair missed the RSVP. In her comments on Jan. 5 before the board of commissioners, St. Clair asked if the newspaper was “seeking a bloodletting or public shaming of any of our staff.”

I assume St. Clair asked her question seriously, so I offer her a serious response. A call for accountability is not a request for “public shaming.” And there is no relationship between asking for transparency in government and “seeking a bloodletting.”

Public Health Nursing Supervisor Jenna Dran provided a detailed memo to the county explaining her resignation.

Dran wrote: “The lack of leadership at [Island County Public Health] has left many staff members unable to continue working in the conditions as they are.”

In his resignation letter, county Health officer Dr. Joel McCullough wrote that he does not “have confidence in Island County Public Health’s ability to navigate these challenging times.”

These are damning critiques, and this memo and letter contain many more such critiques. I don’t know if everything set forth in this memo and letter is absolute truth. I am saying that our county needs to respond to these critiques, in public, and in detail. This is not a question of “bloodletting;” this is part of how democracy works.

Our elected officials answer to us.

In her Jan. 5 comments, St. Clair said that our public nurses are “frontline heroes” and county employees work hard for us.


St. Clair went on to add, “Now is the time to support those who have been in the trenches on this battle.”

It’s here I get confused. We don’t undermine frontline workers by querying the government that employs them. Quite the contrary. We support our county workers by responding when they communicate their concerns to us.

If a county employee writes that her leadership left her unable to do her job, then this newspaper supports that employee by asking the county for a reckoning.

St. Clair and others indicated that county officials met in private to discuss how to fix the problems that led to the resignation of so many of our critical health workers. We need the results of these private deliberations to be made public. We are talking about public health, and we make up the public whose wellness and lives are at stake.

We need to understand what went wrong, and we have a role to play in determining whether it has been made right.

Coupeville resident Larry Behrendt is a retired attorney.

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