Douglas County fires health board member over letter to editor

Official termination notice comes six months after publication

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For the second time this year, the Douglas County commissioners are looking to replace a board of health member who spoke out against the county’s plan to leave Tri-County Health Department.

Commissioners sent a letter of termination dated April 14 to Marsha Jaroch, a member of Tri-County’s board of health since 2015, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Colorado Community Media.

The letter, signed by all three commissioners, cites an October 2020 letter to the editor in the Douglas County News-Press as the reason for her firing from the position. The letter to the editor was signed by Jaroch and former board of health member Paulette Joswick, who resigned in February.

Tri-County’s board of health is made up of nine appointed representatives — with three each from all three of its counties, also including Adams and Arapahoe counties. The board votes on public health orders, the department’s director and other policies.

“While this (letter to the editor) alone was an abuse of your appointed position, the political rhetoric you elected to use under your appointed position was extremely divisive and intended to create distrust for the elected officials who appointed you, and who answer to the citizens you suggest you are representing,” according to the commissioners’ letter.

'Let your voices be heard'

In the letter to the editor, Joswick and Jaroch — who identified themselves as both residents and board of health members — 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 they would be separating from the department in a year.

“To date, there has been no definitive plan presented to (Tri-County) as to how and when this may occur,” the October letter to the editor said. “In the meantime, (Tri-County) has to set budgets and attend to critical priorities with the eventuality of Douglas County’s departure still pending.”

In November, the commissioners voted to stay with the health department until 2023 in exchange for a new Tri-County policy granting them more control over public health orders. The county is continuing to look for public health options outside of Tri-County.

“If Douglas County is to continue to benefit fully as a member of (Tri-County), protecting the health of our citizens, then let your voices be heard in support of remaining in partnership with this outstanding organization on Nov. 3 and beyond,” the letter to the editor stated.

A Nov. 3 election decided two of the county’s commissioners.

Earlier health board resignation

In February, Joswick, who served as a board of health member for more than 13 years, resigned from her position after she was urged to do so by county staff speaking on behalf of commissioners, she told Colorado Community Media. Joswick says she left the position for other reasons, however.

Commissioners said Joswick resigned after she was contacted about a county resident who reported overhearing the board member talking at a crochet class in Castle Rock. In a letter from the resident to the county, she said she heard Joswick being critical of the commissioners and their decision to leave Tri-County.

Jaroch, who was out-of-state and unavailable for an interview, wrote in an emailed statement that she had been honored to serve on the board of health.

“John Douglas (executive director of Tri-County) and the entire team are everything one could hope to have — professional, experienced, responsive and caring,” she said. “My wish for the future is to see Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams Counties all continue to thrive with the guidance and service of the team at Tri County Health Department.”

Douglas County and Tri-County comments

Commissioners declined requests for interviews about the termination, which had not been announced publicly, but responded to questions through a spokesperson. In an emailed statement, the county said they had contacted Jaroch about the letter to the editor in November and had asked her to resign.

“We continued to retain our interest in a professional separation,” according to the statement. “At no time did the board’s position change with regard to our request that she resign her position.”

Jaroch said she decided not to resign because she “wanted to be part of future discussions about the separation” of Douglas County from Tri-County and planned to resign after that situation was settled.

Jennifer Ludwig, deputy director for Tri-County, said in an interview that Jaroch had been a valuable member of the board and often brought different opinions from other members.

“Marsha has been a phenomenal board member, I really value and appreciate the voice that she brings to the board,” Ludwig said. “It’s always been really good for us to hear that other side.”

Ludwig said this is the first time in her nearly 30-year career in public health that she has seen a board of county commissioners terminate a board member that they had appointed.

Jaroch, a nurse practitioner for 40 years, was re-appointed by the Douglas County commissioners in 2020 and her term was set to expire in 2025.

“To have a really good board member terminated, it’s disheartening,” Ludwig said.

Ludwig added that she would miss hearing Jaroch’s input on the ongoing conversations about Tri-County’s possible separation from Douglas County.

Relevant policies

While Tri-County has strict and clear guidelines for what their staff can do in terms of public statements, these policies don’t extend to the board of health, Ludwig said.

In Douglas County’s code of conduct for boards, committees and commissions, the policy signed by appointees says that when presenting personal opinions or positions, members “shall explicitly state that (they) are not representing their board/committee/commission or the county,” according to the document.

Commissioners planned to replace Jaroch using the remaining applicants from the process used to replace Joswick in February, a spokesperson said.

In their letter to Jaroch, commissioners wrote that they had “lost faith” that her representation would meet Douglas County needs moving forward.

“At this critical time, Douglas County residents need assurance that Douglas County elected officials and those that are appointed by them, will work together — even when they disagree — towards mutually beneficial results on issues of major concern,” according to the commissioners’ letter.

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