EFFINGHAM — After 13 years, Kim Esker is no longer administrator at the Effingham County Health Department.
The Effingham County Board of Health declined to accept Esker's written offer to resign at a Monday meeting. Instead, the board voted 9-0 to fire the longtime administrator.
Board members Dr. Henry Poterucha and Charles Voelker were absent from Monday's meeting.
Board Chairwoman Dot Behrns acknowledged that Esker submitted a letter of resignation.
"But we weren't comfortable with the parameters of the letter, so we voted not to accept it," she said. She declined to discuss specific points of the letter to which the board objected.
Behrns said the decision to remove Esker was not an easy one, but she added that the board did not feel concerns about department finances and morale were being "effectively addressed."
"Leadership changes are always a difficult thing to do, but as a board responsible for health department employees, I think we chose the right direction."
Esker said she did submit a letter of resignation.
"Apparently, it wasn't written in a way they could accept," she said.
Esker said she wanted to resign because of staff issues, as well as conflict between the Board of Health and the Effingham County Board.
"I can breathe now," she said. "I was tired of the stress.
"There was a point where whichever move I made was not going to be the right move for everyone/"
Behrns said the public should be reassured that no Health Department services will be affected by the change at the top. She added that assistant administrator Linda Hampton and WIC program coordinator Shawn Bourland would run the department while the health board seeks a new administrator.
Behrns said she met with Health Department employees Tuesday morning to explain the situation. She felt the meeting went well.
"I felt like we had a positive meeting this morning," she said. "I got the impression that everyone was willing to move forward as a team."
Behrns said the board hopes to have a new administrator in place as soon as possible, possibly by Jan. 1 — though she cautioned that the search could take longer.
Behrns said Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines require a county health department administrator to have a master's degree in either public health or public administration, as well as two years professional experience in public health. While those guidelines specify that a person with a bachelor's degree and at least four years experience could hold the position, Behrns said her board would be looking for someone with a master's degree.
Candidates are encouraged to submit the hard copy of a resume to Effingham County Health Department, 901 W. Virginia St., Effingham, IL 62301, in care of Dot Behrns.
While Esker was earning about $62,000 per year at the end of her tenure, Behrns said the board hadn't talked about a salary range for the new administrator.
As for Esker, she plans to undergo a number of medical procedures before determining her next career move.
"We have to see what the results of those are," she said. "After that, I will be looking for opportunities to serve the public."
Esker said she planned to stay in the Effingham area, if possible.
County Board Chairman Jim Niemann said Tuesday that he had nothing to do with Esker's firing, even though Niemann has been concerned about the department's financial status for several months to the point where he spoke at a special Health Board meeting two weeks ago.
"All I want them to do is get their budget turned around and morale issues addressed," Niemann said.
"Was it my goal to get Kim fired? No."
Niemann said his input into Esker's separation from the department was "none whatsoever."