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Livingston County Board of Commissioners embarks on “exhaustive search” for new health director

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners has established a blueprint for the interview and selection process for the position of health director.

This implementation of this process follows several months of delay and deliberation. Following the retirement of Dianne McCormick in July, Matt Bolang has been serving as interim director. Despite Bolang’s experience and credentials, the Board has been hesitant to appoint him head of the Livingston County Health Department. From the beginning, Chairman Wes Nakagiri has been adamant that the Board find a candidate aligned with the medical freedom movement, preferably someone with a master’s in Public Health. In September, the Board decided to initiate a modified version of the much-discussed “exhaustive search” for a new health officer, opting to post the position through county resources instead of relying on a third-party hiring company.

Livingston County Board of Commissioners embarks on “exhaustive search” for new health director

There were fifteen applicants over the two-week posting period. The names of the candidates have not been released to the public, and applicants were assigned numbers to preserve their anonymity. Each of the five commissioners involved in the process– Douglas Helzerman, Wes Nakagiri, Brenda Plank, Martin Smith, and Mitchell Zajac– selected their top choices for the position. From there, the Board narrowed the list down to the four finalists. 

Livingston County Administrator Nathan Burd said that there are several minimum qualifications for the position of health officer, including education, experience, and administrative experience. While experience is used to describe involvement in the realm of public health, Burd explained that administrative experience implicates a level of former responsibility with a local health department. According to Burd, the county’s legal advisors pointed out that the state administrative code defines a public health administrator as “a person who is responsible for developing administrative practices and policies for a local health department.” 

In considering this definition, Commissioner Helzerman noted that only one of the fifteen applicants had the necessary local healthcare experiences and administrative background. Commissioner Smith pointed out that only three candidates truly fulfilled the minimum requirements. In response, Commissioners Zajac and Nakagiri both advocated for a less narrow view of public health. 

In Nakagiri’s case, this is somewhat contradictory to the limited set of qualifications he’d previously promoted. When considering appointments or nominations for public positions, he explained that he evaluates two key components in each applicant: their technical competence and their governing philosophy. To Nakagiri, the latter is of greater importance, citing governing philosophy as something that cannot be taught. 

Nakagiri added that he’s primarily concerned with whether or not candidates have “a more conservative outlook” and  “a stronger respect for individual and constitutional rights.” This reaffirms that the Chairman of the Board is not necessarily looking for someone with a strong governing philosophy, but rather searching for someone whose philosophy aligns with his own.

Candidate interviews will be open to the public, starting at noon on Monday, October 31st. During this procedure, each candidate will be given one hour to present themselves to the Board and partake in a Q&A session with the commissioners. Candidates are also asked to take Hiring Solutions’ leadership assessment as a qualitative measure of their skills and ability. 

However, the Board of Commissioners has made it very clear that they will not be conducting a vote on the day of the interviews, but will rather postpone the formal decision-making until the meeting on November 14th. 

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners will meet on October 24th. 

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