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Health Department wants mayor's ear

A "direct reporting relationship" with the county mayor — that's what the Board of Health of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department wants its director to have in the wake of the scandal that unseated Mayor Nancy Workman.

"Two arm lengths too far from the mayor's office" — that's the way outgoing Salt Lake Valley Health Department director Patti Pavey describes her ability to get Workman's ear earlier this year when Pavey first noticed a "ghost employee" on the health department rolls.

The resulting scandal over Health Department money being used to pay an accountant at the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Valley led to Workman being charged with two felony counts. Earlier this month, Pavey told the Deseret Morning News she had only "two 15-minute conversations with the mayor in three years."

At a meeting Monday, the Board of Health agreed to request direct access to the mayor-elect. Pavey will draft a letter to that effect, which will be reviewed at the board's November meeting.

"We feel we need to make a statement on the importance of public health to the county and about having a direct relationship with the mayor," explained board chairwoman Cheryl D. Cook.

"It's better to have more people having input (to the mayor) on a regular basis, rather than a few trusted advisers," said Board of Health member David Wilde, who is also on the Salt Lake County Council.

The board also briefly discussed whether it should seek cabinet-level status. Currently, the Health Department reports to the director of the Human Services Department.

In other action, the Board decided to seek an interim director to temporarily replace Pavey until a permanent director is recruited. Pavey, director for the past three years, recently accepted a position with Utah-based TechniScan Medical Systems.

"We've had a couple of bad experiences in our selection process" in the past, said county human resources director Felix McGowan, who urged members to take their time in picking a new director.

The board agreed to ask the state for a waiver allowing it to hire someone who is not a physician.

The board agreed to include the mayor-elect on the selection committee for the new director.