Jessica Mathews /

After months of continued debate, an outside search is now being launched for a new Health Officer/Director for the Livingston County Health Department.

After a three-hour meeting Monday evening, the Board of Commissioners decided to have the County post the position – something that has been discussed numerous times over the past few months.

Longtime Director Diane McCormick retired July 1st. Her recommendation was to appoint Deputy Health Officer Matt Bolang to the position, who is also the Director of Environmental Health. He has been serving as the interim director since McCormick’s departure.

At a meeting last week, the Personnel Committee voted 3-1 with Commissioner Doug Helzerman opposed, to move a resolution appointing Bolang forward to the full board.

A lengthy call to the public at Monday’s meeting was dominated by more than 30 people who spoke against hiring Bolang that prefer an exhaustive, outside search for a candidate with medical experience who would support medical freedoms. One commented the $21,000 cost associated with a search really wasn’t that much money. Many continue to speak out about pandemic mandates, guidelines and protocols imposed that they allege were illegal, reckless, violated the constitution, and trampled the rights of residents, businesses and parents. Some are now referring to the pandemic as the “plandemic” and promoted conspiracy theories while others cited bible verses and said the board could either be “tyrants or heroes”.

Various County staff, department heads, and others have spoken in favor of Bolang and his qualifications. On Monday, one speaker commented that he stepped up when many others would have stepped aside.

Roughly the same amendment put forth by Nakagiri that failed during the Personnel Committee meeting was put forth again by Helzerman that Bolang be considered as an applicant upon completion of an exhaustive search by Hiring Solutions in a two-week increment - and an additional two weeks if necessary. That motion failed – with commissioners Mitchell Zajac, Carol Griffith, Jay Gross, Brenda Plank and Martin Smith opposed. Board Chair Wes Nakagiri, and Commissioners Jay Drick, Carol Sue Reader and Helzerman supported the search via Hiring Solutions.

A separate amendment put forth by Commissioner Gross to have the County post the position instead of utilizing a search firm for two weeks, and an additional two weeks if needed, passed unanimously.

Concerns were raised by some commissioners about how long the process will take as Bolang’s interim appointment from the state expires at the end of December. Administration relayed that while it could be extended, the state has expressed it’s not something generally preferred.

Commissioner Plank commented that two other counties are looking for Health Officers and it’s a very specialized role with a lot of other responsibilities and functions separate from COVID. She expressed disappointment in postponing the matter and said she hopes it “doesn’t come back to smack them in the face” – further raising concerns about what would happen if Bolang were to leave.

Commissioner Griffith stated the board should keep in mind that if they hire someone new for this or any other county job, it entails the whole department. She said they’re not just talking about one person and hopes no one believes that if they hire someone new they can just move into the job and assume existing staff will help or work collaboratively with that person. Griffith said she thinks the staff there now has worked well with both the past director and Bolang - who has been with the county for over 20 years and has a degree in administration, which the board wants. Further, she noted the county employs a medical director.

Griffith also raised questions about hiring a new director and assuming Bolang would be Deputy Director and work under someone new in the county. She went on to state that she is probably the only commissioner on the board who has actually worked with Bolang – who is very professional and well organized. Griffith stated she’s worked with Bolang on the appeals board and he is not a “rubber stamper” and deals with very difficult situations.

Griffith said people talk a lot about COVID but the department does a lot of other things including emergency preparedness and environmental health services. She says Bolang has been part of public swimming pool codes, public bathing beaches, public campgrounds, body art facilities, children and adult care facilities, food protection, and housing and indoor water quality with septic systems. When PFAS was a topic, Griffith said Bolang attended every meeting and gave updates. She said his additional responsibilities now include children’s health and care services, chronic disease prevention and management, communicable disease control, hearing and vision screenings, immunizations, TB testing, health insurance enrollment, public health fact sheets and WIC – just to name a few. Griffith concluded by saying COVID has touched everyone and no one knew how to deal with it – saying she felt the department did the best it could while keeping other services to the community going.

Applicants will be given to the Personnel Committee after the posting period, which will work with the HR Department to determine how to proceed. Normal protocol would be for that body to make a recommendation to the full board.