Humboldt County is moving forward with the process of hiring its next health officer, having already conducted two rounds of interviews — including a "final selection" interview Nov. 13.
Deputy County Administrative Officer Sean Quincey said 18 candidates applied to fill the position. Current Health Officer Teresa Frankovich announced in September that she'd be stepping back from the duties, saying the pandemic had pushed the position well beyond the part-time job she'd accepted in January and that she needed to make good on promises and time commitments to her family. Frankovich agreed to stay in the role until the county could find her replacement, after which she will continue working part-time for Public Health.
When Frankovich announced her resignation, local health officials interviewed by the Journal noted the difficulty of hiring for the position amid a politically charged pandemic, as candidates would know they are likely to face public backlash for certain decisions and that the job would be all-consuming. (Frankovich has reportedly spent long stretches working well in excess of 80 hours a week.) The board of supervisors directed the county's Health and Human Services and Human Resources departments to put together an interview panel of "subject matter experts."
Quincey said a first round of interviews took place Nov. 12 before a panel comprised of "municipal entities, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, hospital organizations, emergency management agencies and tribal representations."
"The collective voices of these multi-disciplinary stakeholders were inclusive and diverse in an effort to ensure the public health officer recognizes the voices of Humboldt County," Quincey said. "For the final selection interview, the board of supervisors and (county administrative officer) were the panelists."
Quincey, however, declined to identify either the people who participated on the first interview panel or the finalists for the position. Regarding identifying the panelists, Quincey said, "the public interest in preserving the integrity of the hiring process and any future appointments outweighs the interest in disclosing the identities of other individuals who were involved in the interview process." And when it came to identifying finalists for the position, Quincey said: "Public health officers are facing situations that are unique in the history of this country, and it is vital that we field the best candidate pool possible now and at any point in the future. In order to do that, the public interest in preserving the process through protection of the identities of those who are not chosen for the position outweighs the interest in disclosure."
Throughout the state and nation, the pandemic has thrust health officers — typically hired for fairly low-profile, under-the-radar positions — into the public spotlight, often under enormous community pressure, and dozens have resigned their positions, some after suffering public harassment or receiving death threats.
The interviews took place just as the county was recording its largest single week spike in new confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, and just days before the state pushed Humboldt County into the red — or substantial COVID-19 risk— tier, prompting a flurry of additional restrictions that will remain in effect for at least several weeks.
In an email to the Journal responding to questions about the county's recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Board of Supervisors Chair Estelle Fennell said she'd had "a very interesting day" Nov. 13 interviewing candidates to fill Frankovich's shoes and that she thinks the county "will have some good news on that front pretty soon."
As to where the hiring process goes from here, Quincey seemed to suggest a decision has been made but did not say so explicitly or commit to a timeline for an announcement.
"The county will make an official announcement of the selected public health officer when the time is appropriate, pending other administrative steps as part of the onboard process," he said. "As with any hiring process, the county will have to complete other administrative tasks. Upon completion, the county will make an official announcement."
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.