About a dozen health department employees turned out at a special called meeting of the Whitley County Board of Health Thursday night to support embattled Public Health Director Martha Steele, who took over the job about two years ago.
At the end of the more than three and one-half hour board meeting, which included about three hours of executive session to discuss “personnel” issues, Steele still had her job.
After the meeting, board chairman Dr. David Williams said that the board “took no action” regarding Steele’s resignation.
“She is still the director – that is correct,” Williams said noting she would remain the director for the foreseeable future.
The board spent the first 30 minutes of the meeting hearing from 10 employees, who spoke out on Steele’s behalf.
Many of those employees noted this was the first time that they had ever attended a meeting of the board of health let alone spoke at one.
“I come here tonight concerned,” said public health clinical supervisor Sheri Richardson. “I stand here tonight saying Martha is very fair. She listens to our concerns. You have several people, who have good things to say about Martha … I feel like Martha is the one person we should have.”
Several employees, who spoke out at Thursday’s meeting, noted that Steele upset some employees by asking them to do their jobs rather than just sitting there drawing a paycheck and doing very little.
They noted some of those employees would comment asking why they should see three patients a day, when they got paid exactly the same amount to see one patient during an eight-hour day.
Vickie Lawson, human resources director at the health department, noted that some of those people are now former employees, while a few are still employed at the health department.
“I believe it was their mission when they left here to get her out,” Lawson said. “They have been after her since day one.”
The director of another health department in the region, who asked not to be identified, also spoke out in support of
Steele during the meeting noting that the amount of support Steele had at the meeting should tell people a lot.
“I commend the support Martha has here tonight,” the other director said. “Martha has had some extreme circumstances that have happened to her since she has been there that even seasoned directors haven’t had to deal with. I commend her and respect her for staying level headed in the situations she has had to deal with.”
Health department educator Kathy Lay noted that several people were at the meeting standing up for Steele because they believe in her.
“Martha has been extremely fair to all of us in public health,” added employee Katie Lay.
Richardson noted that she believes the board has only been hearing from those upset with Steele up until now.
“What you have here tonight are the ones doing their jobs,” Richardson said. “We are here because we want Martha Steele to stay as our administrator here at the health department.”
Peggy Henderson, who retired from the health department but returned to work there doing grant writing part-time, noted that Steele is constantly looking for any opportunity to bring money into the health department.
Henderson added that after two years on the job, Steele is just getting “broke in now.”
“I know she has the best interest of the health department in her heart,” Henderson added.
The board voted to go into executive session about 7:42 p.m. Thursday.
Steele told one board member that “I would like to have the opportunity to talk to the board,” as the board member left the room.
Steele later addressed the board about three or four times for total of about an hour during executive session.
About 10:45 p.m., the board returned from executive session and Williams announced that no action had been taken during the executive session. He then asked for a motion to adjourn the meeting.
“I was very appreciative of the support of the board of health and the staff of the Whitley County Health Department,” Steele said after the meeting.
She added that she was “very humbled” by support of the staff, who spoke out on her behalf Thursday.