UPDATE: County Asked by State to Terminate Health Officer
The state concluded an investigation into Dr. Wakhweya, but did not provide findings to Anne Arundel County Council members.
Updated (1:02 p.m.)—Patch has obtained a letter sent by Joshua Sharfstein, the state Secretary of Mental Health and Hygiene, to the Anne Arundel County Council on Jan. 3.
In the letter, Sharfstein formally requests the council to affirm the termination of Dr. Angela Wakhweya, saying it would be "in the best interest" of the county's Department of Health.
"Dr. Wakhweya is an experienced public health professional, but the Department has lost confidence she can lead the Health Department effectively at this time," Sharfstein wrote.
The Anne Arundel County Council was asked by the state to terminate the county’s health officer, but was given little information as to why they should comply at Monday night's council meeting.
Dr. Angela M. Wakhweya was appointed by the council in October 2011 as Anne Arundel County’s first African-American health officer, the position that oversees the county's Department of Health. Fourteen months later, they were being asked to remove her from office.
County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson told the council on Monday that Joshua Sharfstein, the state Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, had asked the county government to terminate her employment. Hodgson said an investigation had been conducted into Wakhweya, but the details were not known to him.
“I don’t know the specifics beyond that,” Hodgson said.
Some council members balked at being asked to take action on a personnel matter in a public meeting with little to no information on hand. They said they only found out about the issue last week.
“You're asking us to fly blind and make a decision to terminate someone’s employment without a single fact," said Councilman Jamie Benoit (D-4th District). "No one wants to tell us why we should fire [her]."
Council Vice Chairman John Grasso (R-2nd District) said there seemed to be racial undertones at play since Wakhweya is an African-American.
Councilman Derek Fink (R-3rd District) said he wouldn’t vote in favor of it until someone from the state explained to them why they should—noting that no one from the state was present at the meeting.
Dori Berman, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said late Monday night that the agency had no comment on the issue as yet.
Ultimately the council tabled a decision until its next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 22, but Wakhweya was shown a wealth of support in testimonials from the African-American community, including the president of the NAACP’s local chapter Jacqueline Allsup and Annapolis Alderman Kenneth Kirby.
“I've worked tirelessly this weekend on three levels of government to find out why they're asking you guys to be hatchet men,” Kirby said.
Speaking in her defense, Wakhweya said she was a team player who had been closely analyzing the county’s health department and making difficult budget decisions.
Wakhweya's attorney Levi Zaslow said his client was put on administrative leave by the state in November pending an investigation. When she returned to work on Jan. 4 after the leave was set to expire, she was ordered on indefinite leave by the state.
Zaslow said that action was a violation of state law. The removal of a health officer requires the Anne Arundel County government’s approval, he said.
Zaslow said his client has been discriminated against on a number of occasions since her hiring, and her authority has been challenged. In some instances, jokes were made about the pronunciation of her name and her cultural heritage.
“The few individuals who are pushing this have significant racial undertones in what they’re complaining about,” Zaslow said.
County Executive John R. Leopold’s spokesman Dave Abrams had no comment on the matter, citing that it was a personnel issue.
The council will address the issue again at its next meeting, set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 22.
Patch Associate Regional Editor Bryan Sears and Annapolis Patch Editor Anna Staver contributed to this article.
Correction: This story was updated to correct the month in which Dr. Wahkweya was appointed.