Health

The Floyd County Commissioners have voted to end the tenure of longtime county health officer Dr. Tom Harris.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner John Schellenberger motioned to not reappoint Harris, which was then seconded by Commissioner President and Floyd County Republican Chair Shawn Carruthers. Commissioner Tim Kamer opposed, despite having motioned to table Harris’s certification at the Nov. 17 meeting.

None of the three commissioners, all Republicans, discussed the matter before the vote, and all have been vague about their reasoning to move away from Harris, the county’s top health official. Shortly after the vote, the commissioners released a joint statement.

“We believe the time is now to begin a new chapter for the Health Department,” the statement read. “We have every confidence that the department staff, working closely with Baptist Floyd and the Indiana Department of Health, will continue to effectively serve our county as we manage the difficult weeks ahead and eagerly anticipate the vaccines that are hopefully not far off.”

Carruthers and Schellenberger thanked Harris, who has served as health officer since 2006, in the release.

Harris’s certification was tabled by the commissioners – the county’s legislative and executive body – at their Nov. 17 meeting, despite his reappointment to another four-year term by the Floyd County Health Department board of directors. Kamer made the motion to postpone the certification and said he needed more time for “due diligence.”

The tabling came hours after Harris announced new restrictions for Floyd County, mandating that bars close at 10 p.m. and restaurants reduce capacity to 75%. New Albany-Floyd County Schools also announced a decision to switch to virtual learning earlier that day.

Harris spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting after the vote. He criticized Carruthers and Schellenberger for lack of “effective communication” and “due process.”

“For the record, I’d like to point out a couple of inconvenient truths here,” Harris said. “The first of which is the last time Commissioner Schellenberger or Commissioner Carruthers spoke to me directly about COVID-19 related response was Aug. 12. The commissioners, the same two commissioners, are also clearly ignoring the opinion and repetitive vote of the board of health, which is comprised of individuals knowledgeable about health in our community.”

Harris’s contract expires Dec. 31. The health department board of directors will begin the search for a replacement at its December meeting, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Floyd County and throughout Indiana.

Floyd County’s 7-day moving average for daily COVID-19 cases is 44, nearly double the average from a month ago.

John Boyle is WFPL news editor. Previously, he was a reporter and editor at focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.