The reconsideration apparently stemmed from concerns that new Republican commissioners Rod Beck and Ryan Davidson violated open meeting laws while privately discussing Labrador’s appointment in the weeks before they took office. In response to a special prosecutor investigating a potential violation, Beck gave Commissioner Kendra Kenyon — the commission’s lone Democrat — a chance to recommend another candidate. The investigation “sort of put a hold on a hold on the nomination of Raúl Labrador,” he said.
“We didn’t do anything beyond the law for this appointment,” Beck said, denying a legal violation. “We could have just done nothing and proceeded, but we decided out of an abundance of caution … we would allow commissioner Kenyon to produce an alternative, and apparently she did,” Beck said.
Kenyon supported Dr. Sky Blue, a local epidemiologist at Sawtooth Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases, for the spot. After contacting major hospital systems in the area, Kenyon said, “The same name kept coming up as the number one expert in infectious diseases — Dr. Sky Blue.”
Kenyon was on the losing end of a 2-1 vote in favor of nominating Labrador.
“I would make my decision based on who is best for this position, and clearly Dr. Blue is much better for this position,” Kenyon said. “I have not seen where Mr. Raúl Labrador has any public health expertise or knowledge. … I don’t feel like I can go against the recommendations of our top public health officials and institutions.”
Dr. Jessica Duvall, a Saint Alphonsus Medical Group pediatrician, also entered her name for consideration, though the commission focused on Kenyon’s pick. Dr. Kristin M. Linzmeyer, a St. Luke’s Health System cardiologist, also expressed interest in the seat, but pulled her name from the running to support Blue.
Defending his candidacy, Blue emphasized the need to “work collaboratively” with policymakers and health experts, and repeatedly emphasized he would “not make decisions in a vacuum.”
Davidson asked Blue if he knew how many businesses and jobs were lost due to pandemic-related restrictions, along with how much money had been paid out in unemployment, pausing for Blue to answer “no” to each ask.
“Now, you understand that the board is not really a board of doctors. It’s largely a board of politicians, elected officials or bureaucrats who are interested in public health,” Davidson said. “The public policy which we now have in the state which has been very hard on a lot of people. That’s something that you’d have to weigh.”
Pressed to support or criticize health orders approved by CDH, Blue was noncommittal. He said he isn’t familiar with the ins and outs of CDH orders.
“Whatever gives you the best cost versus value, that’s the determination,” he said. “I’m supportive of the group taking the information in front of them and making the best determination.”
Labrador, if confirmed, will replace Diana Lachiondo, who lost her seat after losing a reelection bid to the county commission last fall. Labrador’s term would be five years. Though Kenyon criticized Labrador for only seeking the spot to change how CDH manages the coronavirus pandemic, Labrador did last week say he understands the scope of the board’s decision making, the Idaho Press reported. Still, the pandemic drove Labrador’s interests, he said as he called himself a “common sense” candidate.
Blue said he’d be willing to serve a full term, taking on other public health issues like septic tank regulations and sexually transmitted diseases, but Davidson said he didn’t want to “waste” the time of an epidemiologist on issues that are “below” Blue’s qualifications.
The Republican commissioners also defended their choice with a legal argument. They argued only one physician may serve on CDH’s board, per Idaho statute, and Dr. Ted Epperlyalready is on the board.
The statute reads, “One (1) member of the district board, if available to serve, shall be a physician licensed by the Idaho state board of medicine, and no more than one (1) member shall be appointed from any professional or special interest group.”
Beck and Davidson argued, being a physician makes a person part of a “professional or special interest group,” barring Blue from taking the spot. They furthered that because the statute doesn’t explicitly say more than one physician may serve on the board, CDH shouldn’t allow a second doctor.
Kenyon pointed to Blue’s expertise, reading the next line of the statute: “All members shall be chosen with due regard to their knowledge and interest in public health and in promoting the health of the citizens of the state and the public health district.”
Beck said county commissioners from Elmore, Valley and Boise counties must vote to confirm Labrador to the board. If Labrador doesn’t receive a majority of the 12 votes cast between the Ada commission and other county commissions, Beck and Davidson may consider serving on the board, Beck said; the commission could also reopen itself to applications, he added.