Washington County health commissioner terminated by board

MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - The Washington County board of health voted last week to remove the health commissioner from office, a move that caught many including the commissioner, by surprise.

Dr. Richard Wittberg has served as health commissioner since 2013.

At last week's monthly board meeting, a motion was made for a vote of confidence in Wittberg's leadership. The vote was two to two, with a tie-breaking no vote from board president Bruce Kelbaugh. Specific reasons haven't been given for his removal.

"If the vote failed, he would be terminated immediately," Kelbaugh said. "So that's what happened and basically, the summary of the board elected for new leadership is correct and we all wish Dr. Wittberg the best."

According to the unofficial minutes from the July 9th meeting, if the vote failed Wittberg would be terminated, but would serve as a volunteer commissioner day to day until legal issues are resolved.

Wittberg issued a statement to WTAP which says the following:

"I am still the Washington County Health Commissioner. The Board has not taken action to remove me from that position yet, and it is very possible that they will retain me as health commissioner. They took me off payroll, as I recommended they do due to financial uncertainty with accreditation and other necessary but new costs. I take exception to the Board’s methods, but I serve at their will and pleasure. As to what brought on this action, I would guess it comes from a difference of opinion on the role Public Health should play in our community. Many believe that government is bad, and I was growing a governmental agency. I am very proud of the work of my staff and believe we have done much to improve the health of Washington County residents (I will send you a brief list of accomplishments by email). Hopefully the Board will retain me as Health Commissioner so I can continue some of this good work."