EAST WENATCHEE — Barry Kling, administrator of the Chelan-Douglas Health District since 2003, announced today that he’ll retire as the two counties press on against the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an email, Kling, 66, confirmed to NCWLIFE he’s leaving the office, effective in about one month. He said he would not comment further.
But his announcement comes after his relationship deteriorated with the eight-member Board of Health that oversees the district, over local response to the coronavirus health issue and efforts to overturn Gov. Jay Inslee’s state of public health emergency.
The board is comprised of local elected officials. Three members of the board — Wenatchee City Councilmember Ruth Esparza and Douglas County Commissioners Dan Sutton and Marc Straub — sued Gov. Jay Inslee in May to end his emergency orders.
All three later withdrew from legal action against the governor, which failed in Chelan County Superior Court on Wednesday. But as the case proceeded, the Attorney General’s office claimed Straub abused his position at the board to gather evidence for the lawsuit. Straub has denied this.
In a public meeting June 15, Kling told the board that members’ involvement in the lawsuit had been bad for the district. “The whole entanglement of us, as individuals or otherwise with it, has interfered with our ability to manage the COVID response, and the rest of the health district,” he said at the meeting.
The board must approve a successor to Kling, who held long experience in the public health field. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine in 1978, and helped establish a health department for the Shoshone and Arapahoe Tribes on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He later served as director of health education for an eight-county public health district in Idaho. From 1983 to 2003 he developed rural health programs at the University of Missouri, serving as an associate dean for his last three years before joining the Chelan-Douglas district.
The district’s longtime nursing director, Carol McCormick, also plans to retire this month.
As of this morning, 508 Chelan or Douglas County residents have been confirmed to have COVID-19 infections. Nine have died.