For the third time this year, Douglas County has lost one of its representatives on the board of the Tri-County Health Department.
The early resignation of Zach Nannestad means Douglas County no longer has any of the Tri-County board members it had before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nannestad sent in his resignation Aug. 25, about a week after he abstained from board votes related to requiring the wearing of masks inside schools as a COVID safety measure.
Nannestad cited a conflict of interest regarding his employment with the Douglas County School District as his reason for resigning, according to his letter notifying the county and health department.
“I do not wish to leave this role,” he wrote in the letter, “However, I have recently found myself in a clear conflict of interest when asked to vote on matters specifically impacting my primary employer.”
The Douglas County School District lists Nannestad as the operations manager for environmental health.
Nannestad went on to write that the commissioners had “asked for my assurance” that he wouldn't abstain from future votes because of this conflict and that he felt he couldn't give that.
Tri-County, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, has a Board of Health made up of nine members, with three from each county. The board votes on various policies and public health orders.
During a work session earlier in the week, the Douglas County commissioners discussed Nannestad's decision to abstain from Tri-County's school mask votes, questioning if there was truly a conflict of interest for him.
“I'm not aware of any financial compensation or any of the conflicts that our legal staff advises us are conflicts of interest,” Commissioner Lora Thomas said. “Sometimes we vote on things that are hard, that are difficult. We live in a community, it affects our community, but we can't abstain just because we live in the neighborhood.”
County attorney Lance Ingalls said in the Aug. 23 work session that he also was not aware of any obvious, statutory conflict of interest for Nannestad and suggested reaching out to the board member to learn more. The commissioners directed their staff to contact Nannestad about “where this goes forward with this conversation,” Thomas said in the meeting.
“I think there's going to be future decisions associated with the school board that he will have to vote on,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said in the meeting, “And so I think understanding the basis for the conflict and whether there is one or not is important.”
In a staff conversation with Nannestad, it was discussed “that he consider resigning if he thought he would continue to have conflicts which prevented him from voting,” according to a statement from the county.
In response to request for an interview or statement, Nannestad directed Colorado Community Media to a school district spokesperson, who said the former health board member declined to comment.
“As a proud veteran, in whatever capacity I am serving, it is of the utmost importance to me that I act in a manner that ensures my integrity never needs to be questioned by those I serve,” said Nannestad's resignation letter. “In an appointment such as this, there needs to be a level of trust that I will act and vote with the best intentions for my county, my board and the entirety of Tri-County and I feel that this level of trust has been called into question.”
On Aug. 17, the Tri-County Board of Health considered two possible mask mandates for schools. The first motion would have mandated the indoor use of masks for students of all ages and their teachers. That motion failed with four representatives voting in favor, four voting against and Nannestad abstaining.
The second motion required masks to be worn inside by students ages 2 to 11 and any staff that work with those ages. That motion was approved with six votes in favor, two votes against and Nannestad again abstaining. Both of the "no" votes on that motion were from Douglas County's other representatives on the board.
Douglas County commissioners later voted to opt out of the Tri-County mask order, but the county school district is enforcing it anyway.
Nannestad had served as a health board member since 2015 and his term was set to end in 2024.
“TCHD is deeply appreciative of Zach's service to our (Board of Health) over the past 6 years,” according to a statement from the health department. “He always approached his role with thoughtfulness, integrity and an ever-present focus on how to enhance the health of residents of our counties. We don't always have a BOH member with an environmental health lens and Zach's insights as a leader in environmental public health at a local school district has been valuable to TCHD.”
Two other departures
Earlier in the year, two other longtime Tri-County Board of Health members representing Douglas County left their positions.
Paulette Joswick, who had been on the board since 2007, resigned in January, two years before her term would have ended. Joswick said that health concerns, negative attention from the public and mounting stress from holding the position during the COVID-19 pandemic all contributed to her decision to leave.
Joswick also said she had been contacted by county staff -- acting on behalf of the county commissioners -- and had conversations that she viewed as encouragement to resign.
Joswick had been the only representative from Douglas County to vote to approve a mask mandate in July 2020. A member of the public had also submitted a letter to the county about Joswick, saying she overheard the board member being critical of the commissioners during a Castle Rock crochet class.
In April, the commissioners fired Marsha Jaroch, who had been a board of health representative for the county since 2015. In their termination letter, commissioners cited an October 2020 letter to the editor in the Douglas County News-Press as the reason for her firing.
The letter to the editor was signed by Jaroch and Joswick and it urged the community to voice support for Douglas County remaining with Tri-County Health. The commissioners had submitted a letter to Tri-County in July 2020 stating that the county would be separating from the health department in a year. Commissioners later walked back that decision and decided to remain with the agency until at least 2023 after negotiating a deal to hold more local control over public health orders.
The county is expected to consider how to fill Nannestad's position within the next week.
“We greatly appreciate Mr. Nannestad's service on the Tri-County Board of Health,” according to a county statement released through a spokesperson.
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