Dixon out at Allegheny County Health Department

March 7, 2012 3:30 pm

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Bruce Dixon, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, was ousted today in a vote by the department's board of directors.

Dr. Dixon, 73, had been the department's director for 20 years, longer than any of his predecessors. He said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald gave him the choice to be fired or resign.

The board voted 7-0, with one abstention, to oust Dr. Dixon, who did not attend today's meeting.

Allegheny County Council approved four appointments to the county board of health Tuesday night, opening the way for Mr. Fitzgerald to replace Dr. Dixon.

At the board's meeting today, 14 people signed up to speak on Dr. Dixon's behalf -- including former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht and County Councilman Matt Drozd, a Republican from Ross.

Sources close to Mr. Fitzgerald declined to speak for attribution earlier this week. But they said the new county executive wasn't happy with how Dr. Dixon handled the recent restaurant-grading controversy, diesel idling regulation and delays in air pollution permitting.

Dr. Dixon is a tenured faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he began teaching in 1975 and is an associate professor. He agreed to an appointment as the county's Health Department director 20 years ago this month.

His two-year contract runs through June 30, 2013, but contains a three-month escape clause that can be triggered by either the county or Dr. Dixon.

The county pays the university $175,000 a year and the university then pays Dr. Dixon, who remains on the faculty.

Over the years, Dr. Dixon has been a strong advocate on a variety of public health issues and has been able to survive for longer than most in a tough job between environmental enforcement pushed by vocal citizen groups and the county's bipartisan political economics, which has often pushed him in the opposite direction.

His pragmatic enforcement posture when it came to air and water pollution has helped improve air and water quality, but not as quickly as many environmental groups would have liked.

Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, a statewide environmental advocacy organization, has been especially critical, calling for Dr. Dixon's resignation a year ago.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.
First Published 2012-03-07 14:23:55

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