Pressure is intensifying on county officials to remove Dr. Annie Bukacek from the Flathead City-County Board of Health after she defied state and local policies surrounding the coronavirus outbreak and spread misinformation.
According to a letter from city leaders in Whitefish, Bukacek’s recent actions “rise to the level of malfeasance, violate the public trust and cannot be tolerated.”
The April 27 letter to the Flathead County Board of Commissioners was signed by Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld and all six members of city council. It is the latest call for her removal from the health board following controversy over her remarks and actions surrounding state and local measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Bukacek has served on the health board since January, when she and another appointee replaced two decade-long members in a move that infuriated the incumbents and drew heavy criticism from the public, in particular because of Bukacek’s outspoken opposition to vaccinations.
Complaints about Bukacek have heightened since the coronavirus outbreak led to a series of state and local directives intended to slow its spread, including a stay-at-home order and social-distancing guidelines. Bukacek has openly challenged the measures and helped organize a protest outside of Kalispell City Hall last month, when officials voted to declare a state of local emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bukacek garnered national attention when she addressed a congregation at Liberty Fellowship Church in Kalispell claiming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention manipulated data and figures to exaggerate the death toll from COVID-19
In a YouTube video of her remarks that went viral, Bukacek “blatantly used her position as a Board member not only to spread inaccurate information regarding COVID-19 to the public, but also to push her own personal political agenda,” according to the letter.
The letter goes on to characterize Bukacek’s organization of a rally to protest Kalispell’s emergency declaration as a direct violation of Montana’s stay-at-home order and guidelines for social distancing.
“Dr. Bukacek’s actions demonstrate an appalling disregard of the clear direction given by both state and local officials,” the letter states. “Rather than promoting public health, as is Dr. Bukacek’s obligation, she is actively undermining it by publicly diminishing the very real threat of COVID-19. Simply put, Dr. Bukacek is a danger to the citizens of Flathead County, and given the viral status of her video, the entire country.”
The controversy has prompted widespread public outcry and the resignation of health board member Michael Nicosia, who said he could not “in good conscience continue to serve … alongside Dr. Bukacek.”
Meanwhile, Flathead County Commissioner Phil Mitchell said three weeks ago that he had received more than 100 emails urging Bukacek’s removal from the board and that he regretted appointing her. Commissioners Randy Brodehl and Pam Holmquist said they’ve also received pressure from the public to remove Bukacek, but said her actions are constitutionally protected and that she was acting as a private citizen.
Letters have also flooded the email inboxes of Mayor Muhlfeld and the city councilors, prompting the joint letter.
“We recognize that as a private citizen, Dr. Bukacek enjoys the same right to engage in free speech that we all do. However, her use of her position as a Board member to promote her personal views (which lack scientific support, and if followed would undoubtedly endanger the public health) as well as to broadcast fallacies, and incite others to violate and ignore a lawful order of the Governor, is unacceptable,” the letter states. “Dr. Bukacek’s right to engage in free speech ends where the public’s right to be safe from COVID-19 begins. It is imperative that she immediately be removed as a Board member.”