By MARK EVANS
Since Jeanette Wood agreed to take on the duties of Ste. Genevieve County Health Department administrator the first week in September, a cloud had hung over her head.
That cloud, the County Commission’a concern that she could not legally hold the position after having just served on the county health board, finally burst last week.
Wood agreed to resign during last Thursday’s County Commission meeting after Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson and Prosecuting Attorney Wayne Williams discussed the situation with her.
“The problem is we’re breaking the law and we know it,” Nelson told Wood. “I took an oath to support the Missouri Constitution and the laws that go with it. That man (Williams) did the same thing. We have nothing against Jeanette Wood. You’ve been a community pillar for 40 years, we’ve been friends for 20 years. If it was Randy Bahr sitting here, it would be the same thing.”
Nelson said the Commission is being “bombarded” with complaints about the situation.
The problem resided in Missouri Revised Statute 105.454, which lists “additional prohibited acts by certain elected and appointed public officials and employees.”
Officials may not “Perform any service for consideration, during one year after termination of his or her office or employment, by which performance he or she attempts to influence a decision of any agency of the state, or a decision of any political subdivision in which he or she was an officer or employee or over which he or she had supervisory power,” according to the fifth paragraph.
“If I didn’t know it was against the law, it would be different,” Nelson said. “We didn’t know it when you got the appointment, but we know it now.”
Although attorney Carl Kinsky, a health board member, has disagreed with the assessment, the county has followed the opinion of Ivan Schraeder, the attorney it uses. He said early-on that Wood would have needed to sit out a year after resigning from the health board before she could have taken a paid position administered by that board.
Thursday Williams sided with Schraeder. The primary argument against the statute was the theory that the health board was not a political subdivision and therefore not subject to that statute. The commissioners have stressed that with the board taking tax money and its ability to issue county-wide mandates, it clearly is a political subdivision. Schraeder has backed that opinion.
“We all know it now,” Nelson said. “We can’t ignore it now.”
Both Nelson and Williams wanted to stress to Woods, 80, that the request for her resignation was not a reflection on her job performance, but merely on the legality of her holding that job.
“We think a lot of you,” Williams told her. “However, we’re concerned about your right to hold your position, not your performance.”
Williams and Nelson noted that another individual who had been denied the chance to take a position overseen by a board he had been on has been loudly complaining.
“He’s right,” Nelson said. “He wasn’t allowed to do it. We can’t sit back and not do our jobs. As Wayne said, you’ve been a great community service person over the last 50 years or better. You’ve helped me when I needed help the worse, when my brother, my sister, my mom, my dad died. You were there for me; you helped name through all that. But it’s not personal, it’s professional.”
Williams gave her a letter, requesting her resignation within three business days.
“Personally, I think a voluntary resignation, there’s no dishonor in that, there’s no disrespect in that,” Williams said.
Wood, while she said she understood the situation, was clearly displeased.
“All of you have heard me say this before and I’ll say it again,” she said. “No good dead goes unpunished.”
She predicted she would “probably be ripped in the paper” over the situation, apparently referring to the Herald and/or Dally Journal, who also had a reporter present.
Williams said he as reviewed the state statute and has spoken with other attorneys “that are more in the know than I am about this kind of thing and consulted with them, and that’s where we are right now.”
Wood asked if they had spoken to the health board about the decision.
Wood said she would “do it gracefully and voluntarily” and officially resign by Tuesday, Dec. 22.
Sandra Bell held the position from 2009 until health concerns led her to retire early in July. She led the county through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For two months the department did not have an administrator. Nurse Julie Flieg filled many of those roles during that time.
Early in September, Wood approached her fellow health board members about taking the thankless position. As soon as an agreement was reached, she turned in her resignation from the board.
NUMBERS STILL LOOK SOLID
In making her final COVID-19 report to the Commission, Wood had decent numbers to share.
There were just 44 active cases in the county, and 60 “probable” cases. Since March, the total number of cases has climbed to 1,372.
There have been two deaths.