Flathead County Commissioners Vote Against Health Officer Candidate

The vote comes after the board of health voted by a 4 to 2 margin last week against recommending the hiring of Michael Chambers as health officer for the Flathead City-County Health Department

By Mike Kordenbrock
Michael Chambers interviews with the Flathead County Commissioners for the health officer position for the Flathead City-County Board of Health on April 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Flathead County commissioners during a Tuesday morning meeting voted against appointing Michael Chambers county health officer.

Chambers is currently the administrator for the Macon County Health Department in Missouri and was a candidate to lead the Flathead City-County Department.

He underwent public interviews with both the board of health and the commissioners, but Tuesday’s vote effectively ends his candidacy, since the county commissioners had the final say on his hiring. Last week the board of health had voted by a 4-to-2 margin against recommending to the commissioners that he be hired.

Among the concerns raised by board members who voted against Chambers was his lack of experience in certain aspects of public health, and the potential effect that could have on health department staff and functions.

The lone vote in support of Chambers came from Commissioner Randy Brodehl. Brodehl brought forward the motion to appoint Chambers health officer. Commissioner Brad Abell seconded the motion, saying he was doing so for discussion, but Brodehl said nothing during the discussion, which lasted less than 20 seconds. The only person to speak was Abell.

“I just think that I’m gonna have to honor the health board’s decision,” Abell said, before he and Commissioner Pamela Holmquist voted against Brodehl’s motion.

Prothman, the recruiting firm the county has hired to find a health officer, is obligated to conduct another search, although the county will have to pay some additional fees, including travel expenses for candidates.

The county has now been searching for a health officer for two years, and has conducted four different searches. Current Health Officer Joe Russell came out of retirement to take on the job temporarily after interim Health Officer Tamalee St. James Robinson resigned in 2020 amid what she called “a toxic environment being fostered between the Commissioners, the Board of Health and the Health Department.”

Russell worked for the health department for 30 years, including 20 as health officer before he first retired. Russell has said that he does not plan to stay on in the position past June 2022.