Commission to vote this week on stalled nomination for county health officer

07/29/2014 11:11 AM

07/29/2014 11:11 AM

The appointment of a new county health officer — stalled for almost two months because of objections from anti-abortion group Kansans for Life — is headed for a vote at this week’s county commission meeting.

Commission Chairman Ed Eilert said there aren’t enough votes to approve Allen Greiner, the county staff’s original choice. Eilert, in response to questions from Commissioner Ed Peterson, said that since it looked like four of the seven commissioners were opposed to Greiner, he wanted to consider an alternative staff selection, Joseph LeMaster.

Both Greiner and LeMaster are affiliated with the University of Kansas Medical Center.

The idea of a substitution rather than a straight up-or-down vote on Greiner did not sit well with Peterson, who said the candidates should be discussed in a public meeting. When Eilert mentioned LeMaster as a candidate, Peterson asked, “Who’s been negotiating this deal? We didn’t authorize that. It was tabled and it needs to be taken off the table and voted appropriately.”

At times the discussion between commissioners last week was testy. At one point Eilert asked, “If you desire not to politicize this, then why is it before us at this point in time?”

Eilert and Peterson are running against each other for the county chairmanship in the Aug. 5 primary.

Ultimately the commission voted unanimously to put Greiner’s name up for a vote at its meeting Thursday.

The public health officer is the county’s chief medical adviser. The $40,000-a-year position has been filled by Joseph Hume since 2005. Hume was planning on leaving the post this month.

Staff of the county Department of Health and Environment put forward Greiner’s name for the job in early June. But the commission delayed voting after Commissioner Jason Osterhaus said some constituents had expressed concern. Those objections came from Kansans for Life. Mary Kay Culp, the group’s executive director, questioned Greiner’s appointment because of his testimony on behalf of another doctor in a license revocation hearing in 2011.

That doctor, Kris Neuhaus, provided second opinions that the late George Tiller needed to provide abortions at his Wichita clinic. Tiller was shot in 2009 by a man who professed anti-abortion views.

Greiner was a defense witness for Neuhaus in the hearing before the Kansas Board of Healing Arts. The board revoked her license, but that decision was overturned in March by a district court judge.

The gist of the problem for some commissioners came from the ruling by administrative judge Edward Gaschler against Neuhaus. Gaschler was highly critical of Greiner’s expert testimony, saying he was “not persuasive and is not credible.” Gaschler’s ruling also hinted that Greiner’s opinions on Neuhaus’s record-keeping may have been tainted by a personal friendship with her.

Greiner, in a previous interview, said he reviewed Neuhaus’s records and found them appropriate and was completely comfortable working with her at KU, where she is a research project director for the Department of Family Medicine. He could not be reached for this story.

Commissioners Osterhaus, Michael Ashcraft and Jim Allen all expressed reservations about Greiner’s appointment based on Gaschler’s ruling.

“There’s enough in there that raises questions about Dr. Greiner’s appointment,” said Osterhaus. “We’re the number one county in the state as far as health goes. I’d rather not put that in jeopardy.”

However, Peterson and Commissioner Steve Klika said they were troubled by the idea of political interest groups getting involved in the selection process for county appointees. Greiner was recommended by staff and has served in a similar position in Wyandotte County, Klika said. In addition, he said, the healing arts board itself is a politically appointed body.

Peterson said a public vote on Greiner would keep the appointment process transparent.

“The item should be on the agenda and taken up at the meeting so the public can see how we got where we are,” Peterson said. “If we leave this as it is, the item gets tabled and mysteriously another candidate comes forward. We don’t know who was involved in that decision. We don’t know how that decision was made.”

County Manager Hannes Zacharias said his office put LeMaster’s name up without prompting from commissioners when it became apparent that Greiner’s nomination was stuck. The University of Kansas Hospital web page lists LeMaster’s clinical focuses as health promotion, preventative health, refugee health care and adolescent medicine.

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