Health choice changes mind, now wants job

A Nebraska man tapped to become Mesa County’s public health director told The Daily Sentinel on Friday he likely will take the job, a week after shunning the position over the current turmoil within the county.

Jeff Kuhr, the current director of the Three Rivers Public Health Department in Fremont, Neb., initially accepted the $95,000-a-year job last month. He and James Helmstetter, the former environmental health services director for the Genesee County Health Department in Flushing, Mich., were the two finalists for the post.

But in a Nov. 11 letter addressed to the Board of Health, Kuhr declined the job after reading articles in The Daily Sentinel, monitoring county e-mails and talking with public health officials throughout Colorado the past few weeks.

Kuhr wrote that he had developed the impression that the County Commission is “very involved” in the day-to-day business of county departments.

“Having concurrent vacancies for the (Health Department) director, county administrator and (Department of Human Services) director positions makes me wonder if I would be getting myself into a situation in which success is not possible unless my primary focus is to reduce spending, likely at the expense of valuable public health efforts,” he wrote.

Kuhr also expressed concern with Commissioner Craig Meis’ Nov. 4 e-mail to all county employees in which Meis explained the reasons behind offering the county administrator job to Michael Freilinger. Responding to a couple of employees’ concerns about Freilinger’s proposed $140,000 salary, Meis wrote, “My response to this is pretty simple. You pay for what you get.”

“I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take that comment considering that I was hired for $45,000 less than what the previous health director was being paid,” Kuhr wrote in his letter.

The former Health Department director, Michael Aduddell, was demoted to medical officer as part of a departmental reshuffling in July. Prior to his demotion, his annual salary was $147,671. As of Aug. 2, Aduddell is making $75,000 in a half-time position, Human Resources Manager Sandy Perry said.

The Board of Health began discussing its options in light of Kuhr’s rejection letter during a work session Friday morning.

Board member John Rodwick said he believed the events of the past several weeks in the county — division among county employees over Freilinger’s potential hiring, disagreements over budget cuts that led to Human Services Director Len Stewart leaving his job and budget reductions in the Health Department — created a “point of confluence” resulting in something that “looked like a pretty lousy picture.”

However, Rodwick said, “I think what we’re seeing is more exception than rule.” He suggested the board try to coax Kuhr to take the job.

“I don’t know why you would want someone who doesn’t have a commitment (to the county),” board member and County Commissioner Craig Meis replied.

Board President Kristy Reuss noted that Kuhr hasn’t responded to an e-mail she sent him.

But after the meeting, Reuss and Rodwick called Kuhr and apparently sold him on the job.

Reached Friday afternoon, Kuhr acknowledged that his reading of recent media coverage of the county and county e-mails concerned him.

“With all the media, holy mackerel, to move my family out 1,200 miles from Fremont County, I thought, ‘What am I getting myself into?’” he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged he didn’t know everything behind Stewart’s leaving. And he decided the fact that there were currently several administrative openings within the county constituted “an uncharacteristic chain of events.”

Kuhr said Reuss and Rodwick reassured him of their confidence in him.

“They just assured me that this relationship is between myself and the Board of Health, and that’s where it needs to be,” he said.

Asked if he would have maintained his concerns about the job if he answered to the County Commission rather than the Board of Health, Kuhr said no.

“I don’t really know anybody on the Board of County Commissioners,” he said. “I don’t want to judge them just based on what I’ve read.”

Kuhr said he told Reuss and Rodwick that he’s committed to the health director position and expects to talk with them again next week.

He has not formally accepted the job.

Kuhr has been the director of the Three Rivers Public Health Department for seven years. The department serves a population of roughly 75,000.


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