City officials work out a deal to dump controversial former health director
By André Coleman 05/22/2014
According to documents released by the city Thursday, former Pasadena Public Health Director Dr. Eric Walsh, who resigned after it was learned that he had made offensive comments in sermons given at a church he attends, received six months severance, including holiday and vacation pay.
Walsh was hired to serve as the Public Health Director in 2010 for just more than $186,000, $200,000 with benefits. The agreement also eliminates Walsh’s right to sue the city.
“Dr. Walsh resigned from his position on May 14, 2014 so that he and the Public Health Department can move forward,” City Manager Michael Beck said in a prepared statement. “The settlement and release agreement provides Dr. Walsh with an amount equivalent to the severance defined under his employment agreement, which allows the matter to be resolved amicably and without risk of potential claims. The city, through its Public Health Department, continues to provide outstanding public health programs in service to our community.”
Walsh resigned after negative comments he made about Muslims, Catholics and homosexuals touched off a firestorm of controversy. A member of the Seventh-day Adventist church, Walsh made his remarks during videotaped sermons. He quit his job after spending nearly two weeks on paid administrative leave while city officials investigated his statements to determine whether his religious beliefs interfered with his duties.
In a related development, Walsh was scheduled to be honored by the NAACP Pasadena Branch at its annual Ruby Williams McKnight Awards dinner in October, but NAACP President Gary Moody told the Weekly that the group has withdrawn the award and would instead send Walsh a letter thanking him for his service in Pasadena.
In his sermons, Walsh called homosexuality sinful, evolution a satanic belief and the prophet Mohammad a Satanist. He also said condoms helped spread AIDS and attacked television shows depicting homosexuality in a positive way.
“Today you have whole shows like ‘Will and Grace,’ where the whole theme is around gayness, if there is such a word,” Walsh said during one sermon. “How does the devil do it? ... He doesn’t give you a whole lot of it at once ... You become immunized against something that once was revolting to American society. That’s why there were laws against sodomy and homosexuality. How do you go from what we had in the ’70s to gay marriage?”
Despite his espoused beliefs, Walsh actually helped improve health care services that the city provides to local residents battling HIV/AIDS.
On Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health released a statement announcing officials there had rescinded a conditional offer of employment to Walsh, who was set to become the health director in the North Georgia Health District.
“The Georgia Department of Public Health has retracted the conditional offer of employment to Dr. Eric Walsh for the position of district health director of the North Georgia Health District,” district Communications Director Ryan Deal wrote in a prepared statement.
“Today’s action by the department follows a thorough examination of Dr. Walsh’s credentials and background as well as consultation with the six local boards of health which comprise the district.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Walsh did not tell Georgia officials that he had recently been placed on leave in Pasadena. His contract here did not allow him to travel while on administrative leave, and forced him to remain on call for the city.
AIDS Service Center Executive Director Anthony Guthmiller said his organization, which operates out of the city Health Department headquarters on North Fair Oaks Avenue, did not condone Walsh’s statements and is moving on.
“Our first priority is the current and former clients of AIDS Service Center and the programs that were integrated into the Pasadena Public Health Department approximately two years ago,” Guthmiller wrote in a statement. “ASC continues its mission of the past 27 years by improving the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS and preventing new infections through community education and outreach.”
Walsh’s remarks were not well-received by people he worked with at the Health Department. “There are people in the department that were offended by his statements, and they did not want to work with him,” said one person who asked not to be identified. “Everybody who works in the department is not a Christian. His statements left some people confused and hurt.”
His beliefs were not well received in Georgia, either.
“As a Catholic, I’m offended that Georgia would offer a job to Eric Walsh,” wrote Georgia Democrat Senate candidate Timothy Swiney on his Twitter feed. “He is not fit for public service. Rescind the offer NOW.”
Linda Swift, executive director of the Health Initiative that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members of the community, wrote a letter to state Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald calling on the Health Department to rethink its decision.
“Dr. Walsh’s public displays of anti-gay propaganda and religious rhetoric will become symbols of the department and will further isolate an already vulnerable population,” wrote Swift. “We believe this hire is detrimental to the wellbeing of our community, as well as to the effectiveness of the department to conduct meaningful outreach to LGBT Georgian … Placing Dr. Walsh in a leadership position will validate our community’s fears in engaging health systems and will hurt the credibility of any future campaign launched by the Georgia Department of Public Health that may seek to address LGBT health disparities.”
The 42-year-old physician and his wife, Annette, have three children; Jahan, Jasmine and Eric III. He previously served as medical director of the Family Health Division of the Orange County Health Care Agency in Santa Ana. He has received congressional recognition for his leadership and contributions to the care of children, and he has received the 100 Black Men of Orange County Award in Health and Wellness Care. During his time in Pasadena, Walsh helped merge medical services provided by the AIDS Service Center into the city’s Health Department. Also during his tenure, the city Health Department started a free dental clinic for people with HIV/AIDS.
Michael Smith, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia, also expressed disappointment in Walsh’s selection.
“I’m deeply troubled by the prospect of Walsh’s hire, given his well-documented hateful rhetoric,” said Smith, who is gay. “Georgians need to know that their public health officials can serve without bias.”