County health board meeting erupts following rejection of anti-vaccine applicant


Discussions over Whatcom County Council’s recent refusal to include a vaccine opponent on the public health advisory board raised tensions between councilmembers and staff during a January 31 health board meeting. 

Councilmember Todd Donovan abruptly left the mixed online and in-person meeting as councilmembers Kathy Kershner and Tyler Byrd questioned health advisory board chairman Steven Bennett’s reasons for rejecting anti-vaccine activist Misty Flowers and others’ applications to join the board. Four people were selected to fill seven vacancies on the board at county council’s January 10 meeting, while five other applicants were passed over.

Kershner said since the Covid-19 pandemic began county council has heard during the public comment portion of its meetings from a segment of the community that has a differing opinion on how the pandemic was handled and how it’s continuing to be handled.

“How are you planning to incorporate those voices into our public health advisory board, the inputs and the outputs, if we don’t allow a member from that group to join and express their views and be part of the solutions that we have going forward?” Kershner asked Bennett.

Byrd echoed Kershner and told Bennett that each of the nine applicants had experience that would lend itself to the group.

“In listening to your comments today, it strikes me that there is a thought or an opinion that somehow [the public health advisory board] is separate in what it does, and that – to be honest – [it’s] almost as if the council and the health board is secondary to [the health advisory board],” Byrd said. “And I want to make clear that [the health advisory board] exists to advise us.”

Whatcom County Health Department director Erika Lautenbach interrupted Byrd and said he was out of line.

“This is a committee of volunteers who participate. Do not chastise them in open public comment, in an open public forum,” Lautenbach said. “This is totally inappropriate, totally inappropriate. This is a volunteer. Do you want community input, or do you want to just yell at them?”

Earlier in the meeting, Flowers said during public comment that she wanted to express her concern on behalf of herself and others in the community on why the county’s public health policies do not represent the views of a portion of the population. Flowers said three individuals who oppose the use of the Covid-19 vaccine, including herself, applied for the public health advisory board’s open positions and were blocked.

Flowers is a musician and ran unsuccessfully for county council in the August 2021 primary, where she received 9 percent of the vote. Flowers did not respond to The Northern Light’s request for comment.


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