County health board fires Dixon

March 8, 2012 12:00 am

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In a move orchestrated by new County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the Allegheny County Board of Health Wednesday voted to terminate the contract of Bruce Dixon, the Health Department's director for the past 20 years.

After hearing impassioned pleas to save Dr. Dixon's job from a dozen supporters -- including forensic pathologist and former county medical examiner Cyril H. Wecht -- the board held a 90-minute, closed-door executive session and returned to vote 6-0 with one abstention to fire the 73-year-old doctor, who is an acknowledged expert on a wide variety of public health issues.

Prior to the vote and after it, there was no public discussion by the board of the issues it considered in reaching its decision.

When the meeting ended, Lee Harrison, the health board chairman, said "Dr. Dixon has been a phenomenal public servant for the county for 20 years" and also that the board "felt the move was in the best interests of the county."

Asked to explain why the board terminated its longtime director, Dr. Harrison said it was a "personnel decision" and board members had "looked at the issue seriously." He added that Mr. Fitzgerald had "made no bones about the fact of what he wants to see happen."

Following the health board meeting, Mr. Fitzgerald's office issued a statement saying the county executive appreciated Dr. Dixon's years of service and dedication. Reports earlier this week said the county executive wasn't happy with how Dr. Dixon handled the recent restaurant-grading controversy, diesel idling regulation and delays in air pollution permitting, among other issues.

"It is now time to take the department in a new direction," Mr. Fitzgerald said in the statement, "and to ensure that our public health, air quality, food safety and other critical services are among the best in the nation."

Dr. Dixon did not attend the health board meeting, and following it he did not return calls requesting comment. In a phone conversation two hours before the meeting, he said he would leave it to the board to decide, and "just play it by ear" and "see how things play out."

Earlier this week Dr. Dixon said Mr. Fitzgerald had met with him Friday and told him he could either resign or be fired. After reports of that meeting surfaced earlier this week, a diverse group of a dozen people signed up to speak on Dr. Dixon's behalf at the health board meeting. County Health Department personnel also attended, filling the meeting room and spilling into the adjacent hallway.

First Published 2012-03-07 23:04:24

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