When the Monroe County board of health convened its regular meeting last Thursday (Feb. 9), Sarah Ryterband was seated at the table, instead of Ashley Cranor.
Ryterband had been appointed to the board of health, as the replacement for Cranor, just the day before—by the county board of commissioners at their regular Wednesday meeting.
Cranor had apparently indicated to county commissioners she would eventually be relocating to the Pacific Northwest, and thus resigning from the board of health. But Cranor had not yet submitted her resignation.
Cranor told The B Square she had planned to attend Thursday’s board of health meeting. She wanted to convey some concerns about county codes on various health fees, including private sewage disposal systems, and for rental property inspections. Setting those fees is a part of the board’s core responsibilities, she said.
Cranor said she had wanted to ask Monroe County health administrator Lori Kelley about the county codes on fees, among other issues, and she wanted her remarks on the public record.
But Cranor said she got a phone call from the county’s legal department on Wednesday afternoon—after the commissioners appointed Ryterband as Cranor’s replacement—telling her she was no longer on the board.
Commissioners moved forward with a decision to take Cranor off the board, based on a provision of Indiana state law that says a board of health member can be removed, if they miss four board meetings in a calendar year.
President of the board of county commissioners, Penny Githens, wrote in a message to The B Square that the decision to remove Cranor had been based on at least four absences in 2021.
In that year, the board met more often that it typically does—due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on B Square review of the meeting minutes archive, the Monroe County board of health met 17 times in 2021,
Cranor is recorded as absent for 5 of the 17 meetings. Stephen Pritchard was absent twice, and Mark Norrell was absent once.
But the decision to remove Cranor from the board was not made at a public meeting, as required under Indiana’s Open Door Law.
Asked by The B Square last Friday about the apparent Open Door Law violation, county attorney Jeff Cockerill said that the commissioners would take up Cranor’s removal at their Wednesday meeting this week, and address it retroactively.
[Updated on Feb. 15, 2023. At the end of today’s (Feb. 15, 2023) work session, which followed the regular Wednesday meeting, county commissioners voted 3–0 to remove Cranor from the health board. President of the board of commissioners, Penny Githens said, “I would like to thank Ms Craner for her her participation and her commitment to this. I know that she has a background in public health and appreciate all the time she’s devoted to various endeavors.”
Githens added, “This was not anything that is meant as negative for Ms. Craner. It’s that we had to come into compliance with the statutory requirements in this instance. So again, thank you, Ms. Craner.”]
There’s another dimension to Cranor’s removal, related to the statutorily prescribed composition of the seven-member group. State law requires at least two of the seven members to be licensed physicians. Board member Carol Touloukian had been believed to count as one of the two licensed physicians.
Administrator for the commissioners, Angie Purdie, told The B Square that in the course of confirming the board roles—determining which members satisfied which criteria—Touloukian had said that as a retired physician, she had not maintained her license.
That meant a licensed physician had to be added to the board. Ryterband, the new appointee, is a licensed physician.
County commissioner Julie Thomas responded to a B Square question in an emailed message: “Given Touloukian’s leadership role…and the excessive absences of Ms. Cranor in the past, we made the decision to leave Dr. Touloukian on the health board (although not in the role of a licensed physician).”
Touloukian is currently chair of the health board, and presided over Thursday’s meeting.
When The B Square reached Cranor by phone last week, she said she was proud of her 13 years of service on the board of health, which included some years when she served as chair or vice chair of the board.
Cranor expressed some frustration about the hiring process for the replacement of the previous health administrator, Penny Caudill, who retired last year. The new administrator, Lori Kelley, started in June of 2022.
Cranor’s understanding was that just three applications for the administrator job were received: “One dropped out, and one wasn’t even in public health—not that Lori is,” Cranor told The B Square.
Cranor was a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for county recorder, in the May 2022 primary. But Amy Swain prevailed in what proved to be a close race for county recorder.
Cranor told The B Square she resigned her position as deputy recorder, and was intending to wrap up the other part of her service to the county, which was her appointment to the county board of health, probably around the end of last year. Cranor also said she’s looking to relocate, probably to the state of Washington, to work in the field of public health.
But when Mark Norrell resigned from the board of health last October, Cranor said she delayed her own departure from the board.
In an Oct. 21, 2022 email message to board chair Carol Touloukian and health administrator Lori Kelley, Norrell resigned, saying, “I’ve been honored to serve as a Monroe County Board of Health member since 2014, and board chair for five years.”
Norrell continued, “At this turning point in my life, I am resigning from the board effective today.”
Norrell’s replacement on the board was Dawne (Aurora) DiOrio.
Cranor told The B Square that after Norrell’s resignation, she decided she would remain on the board longer than she originally intended, and try to offer Kelley the benefit of her past experience working for Monroe County government.
Not long after that, news broke about some health department employee firings and resignations.
Cranor said that it was “heartbreaking” to watch a department that has been a leader in the state of Indiana, which has such core public health policies and outcomes go through that kind of turmoil. “I’m just proud that I was a part of those successful administrations,” Cranor said.
About her removal from the board, Cranor said, “I’ve consistently butted heads with the [county] commissioners over their leadership.” She added, “I’m not ever going to apologize for being an inconvenience to the commissioners.”
Cranor pointed to her 13 years of board service, adding, “I worked really hard during COVID.” Cranor said she was disappointed to have received “mixed messages” about the reason for her removal: Was it too many absences, or the statutory requirements for membership qualifications?
Cranor also said she’s disappointed that no other member of the board of health had reached out to her about her departure.
Cranor wrapped up by saying, “You know, it’s differences of opinion. I’m fine with that.”