Coalition: County public health officer should resign
Residents are outraged by the recent statements made by their county public health officer, Dr. Scott Kellermann, on Wednesday, Aug. 4, during a public panel of county and medical officials via Zoom, hosted by Yubanet.com.
Dr. Kellermann referred to a 1918 incident, during the Spanish Flu, when a San Francisco special officer for the Board of Health shot a man who refused to wear a mask, as well as two bystanders, under the pretext of “keeping people safe.”
Dr. Kellermann responded to a comment from Dr. Glennah Trochet, who had stated that not enough people were wearing masks: “As we talk about in the Spanish Flu, that, um, public health officers used to ‘pack heat’ and if you weren’t wearing a mask (gestures hand as if firing a gun and indicates ‘pow’) you know, ‘swift justice,’” then added, “We’re not thinking about that right now, are we, Glennah?”
This was followed by a chuckle and smile.
Dr. Kellermann made the statement regarding those who are refusing to wear a mask one and a half years into a two-week “stay at home” and “mask-up” order. Neither Yubanet.com owner and moderator Pascale Fosshueller nor the other panelists, Health & Human Services Agency Director Ryan Gruber and interim Public Health Officer Dr. Trochet, called out Dr. Kellermann’s remarks, and instead continued the conversation in the same vein about fining, “on the spot,” those not donning masks.
Viewers of the online panel were immediately alarmed, later sharing a clip of the video on social media, asking county officials for an apology and to release an official statement against such dangerous rhetoric.
“Tensions are high throughout our community,” stated Nevada County resident Erin Regan. “The unvaccinated are being blamed and targeted for the supposed Delta variant spread.”
This is not hyperbole. The very next day after Dr. Kellermann’s remarks, in Nevada City, a tiny town of 3,100 in Nevada County, a customer at a local organic grocery store, California Organics, had to be escorted out by employees after he walked into the store with a taser, ready to tase anyone without a mask. A police report was later filed with the Nevada City Police Department.
Erin Regan added: “Dr. Kellermann’s statement selectively discriminates, indicating ‘the rise in positive COVID-19 cases as being the maskless and unvaccinateds’ responsibility.’”
Community members are pointing out that simply publicizing a rise in positive PCR test results while not giving the number of total recent tests given on the county dashboard is disingenuous at best. A more accurate indicator would be to provide the public with the percentile of positive test results out of the total number of individuals recently tested.
All of this has led to a heightened anxiety throughout this small Northern California community. Anxiety that is palpable on social media, on the radio, in the news and on the street.
Any high-ranking county official such as Dr. Kellermann is expected to be aware of this building tension. Dr. Kellermann’s statements were made in his official capacity as public health officer of Nevada County. His inflammatory rhetoric and innuendo is clearly grounds for discipline under the Nevada County Personnel Code sections prohibiting harassment or offensive treatment of members of the public by a county official, and is also a violation of various state and federal civil rights provisions.
That the statement was made by one of the chief health officials of the county, a man literally charged with protecting peoples’ health and well-being, adds all the more insult to this injury. Dr. Kellermann has forfeited his position by violating the public’s trust requiring government employees to secure individual rights on an equal basis. He has forfeited his credibility in general, and the public’s trust and therefor, his position.
It was during a Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting a week later that the chamber was filled with distressed and angry community members demanding that all county officials who participated on the Zoom call (Dr. Kellermann, Dr. Trochet, and Ryan Gruber), either resign or be terminated.
The county Board of Supervisors instead chose to ignore their own county Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation and in deference to Dr. Kellermann, board chair Dan Miller read a prepared statement that Dr. Kellermann was simply making a joke, and the board proceeded to give panel participant Dr. Trochet a 100% raise, totaling $250,535 annually.
“Regardless of the circumstances, for any public official in the middle of a public hearing to insinuate that the county ought to contemplate randomly executing citizens on the street is terrifying, bizarre and beyond the pale,” Regan said. “Dr. Kellermann has caused many residents of this county to reasonably fear for their safety and lives.”
County resident M.J. Greenmountain made the correlation: “Imagine for a moment if Dr. Kellermann had said during a time of heightened KKK crime against black communities, ‘Well, you know, there was a time that we could lynch a black man for looking at a white woman, but we’re not thinking about that right now, are we, Glennah?’” Greenmountain paused, and then said, “People would lose it! Absolutely lose it. But it’s OK to say this about the maskless?”
Although the County Board of Supervisors failed to enforce their own personnel policy, citizens are determined to ensure elected, appointed, and hired county officials don’t fan the flame of misguided anger.
Ken Paige is a member of the Nevada County Restoration Coalition.
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