A Tri-County Board of Health member representing Douglas County resigned from her position two years early after months of high tensions within the field of public health.
Paulette Joswick, who has been on the board since June of 2007, sent in her resignation letter Jan. 29, according to a copy obtained by Colorado Community Media. Her final day in the position will be Feb. 28, according to the letter.
Joswick said the reasons for her resignation include mounting stress from holding the position over the past year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, health concerns and negative attention from some in the community brought on by serving on the board.
“My family felt that the stress of remaining on the board was affecting my health,” she said.
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She also said she was contacted by county staff — acting on behalf of the county commissioners — and had conversations that she viewed as encouragement to resign.
County Commissioner Lora Thomas said Joswick resigned following the commissioner-directed staff conversations with the board of health member about a complaint from a member of the public.
“We thank Ms. Joswick for her more than 13 years of service to Douglas County,” a Feb. 12 statement from the commissioners said. “We wish her all the very best and hope she will continue to use her talents to serve this community.”
Joswick was the only representative from Douglas County to vote to approve a mask mandate in July, making her the decisive vote. Commissioners later voted to opt out of the order and made statements at the time opposing the mandate.
“They were most unhappy with me,” Joswick said about the vote.
Following the health department’s mask mandate, which was later eclipsed by a statewide order, county commissioners announced they would be leaving Tri-County Health Department in a year. Commissioners later rescinded this decision and announced they would remain with the agency until at least the end of 2022.
In October, Joswick and Marsha Jaroch, also a board of health member from Douglas County, co-wrote a letter to the editor, published in Colorado Community Media newspapers and websites, encouraging county residents to voice opposition to leaving Tri-County.
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In the letter of complaint, dated Dec. 12, a community member claimed to have overheard Joswick being critical of the commissioners’ vote to leave Tri-County and other decisions at a crochet class in Castle Rock on Nov. 11. It also states that during the overheard conversation, Joswick had removed her mask several times to speak.
Joswick acknowledges speaking critically about the board of commissioners to a friend and says because she has asthma and was struggling to breathe, she had pulled her mask down for a few moments at a time during this overheard conversation.
Thomas said the board had asked county staff to look into these accusations, and when they did so, Joswick decided to resign.
Joswick says the complaint was not a contributing factor in her decision to resign.
Commissioners plan to fill the empty board position by their March 9 meeting, Thomas said.
The commissioners' candidate interviews for who will fill the position will be public and posted on the county's website, according to a county spokesperson. Commissioners' weekly schedules are posted online at douglas.co.us/commissioners-weekly-schedule.
When asked if political affiliation will be considered when selecting the next board of health members, Thomas said “not that I’m aware of.”
Several weeks before Joswick announced her resignation, commissioners held an executive session — a nonpublic meeting — where they received advice from their attorney on board of health appointments. They also directed staff to begin communications with the board of health members about setting up recurring meetings with them.
“I think it’s an important time for us as commissioners to pick this individual on our board of health,” Thomas said. “I’m hoping that we can establish an ongoing relationship.”
When asked if it is expected for board of health members to vote in accordance with commissioners’ wishes, Thomas said she couldn’t answer the question because she hadn’t “thought it through yet.”
Applications to fill the position will be accepted through Feb. 25, according to the county website. Residents can apply by visiting the county website at douglas.co.us then clicking “Help Me...” followed by looking under “apply for” and clicking “boards, committees & commissions.” Terms last five years and there are no limits to the number of terms one may serve.
Tri-County, formed in 1948, serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. Its board of health comprises nine members, with three from each county. The board has public meetings on the second Thursday of each month at 4:30 p.m.
During her tenure on the board of health, Joswick, a retired nurse, spent most of her time on votes that drew little interest from the general public. She voted on the health department’s budget, its strategic plan and resolutions on things like tobacco.
“I have always loved public health and when I was approached to apply to fill the position I knew it was right for me,” said Joswick, who also worked for the Douglas County School District for 25 years before retiring in 2015. “I loved being on the board.”
When COVID-19 struck in March of 2020, everything changed for Tri-County Health Department and for the board of health.
“It was like building the airplane while we were flying,” Joswick said.
Jennifer Ludwig, deputy director with Tri-County, agrees that the past year has been incredibly difficult for the board of health.
“A board that met six times per year ended up meeting … more than double that,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig saw the board make several very difficult decisions during the past year.
“We all wanted to protect and keep our communities safe and when decisions didn’t align, it created a lot of tension,” she said. “Specifically for the Tri-County board of health being in the spotlight and having to make such difficult decisions was really hard.”
Ludwig said she’s disappointed to see Joswick leave.
“We were all very sad about the announcement and appreciate — more than words can say — her 14 years of service and will miss her tremendously,” Ludwig said.
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