Our say: Council right to delay action on Wakhweya dismissal

The County Council was wise to pause last week before hitting the eject button on Dr. Angela M. Wakhweya.

As of this writing, no one seems willing to say in public what Wakhweya has done to warrant being dismissed as county health officer. The county and state must act together to remove her - just as they acted together to hire her in late 2011- because the county Health Department is a joint agency.


County Executive John R. Leopold's administration washed its hands of the matter, saying it was just passing along a request by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That department's chief, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, asked for Wakhweya's removal in a Jan. 3 letter to Leopold and the council, saying "the department has lost confidence that she can lead the Health Department effectively at this time."

That's it. A spokesman for the agency, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters, declined to say what that means. Wakhweya is currently on indefinite administrative leave.


So at last week's meeting the council was asked to do the deed without explanation, and dump Wakhweya 14 months or so after she was hired. The councilmen seemed taken aback that this issue had been dropped on their desk. Councilman Derek Fink pointedly asked why no one from the state was there to explain why Wakhweya should be dismissed.

Wakhweya herself, her attorney and nearly a dozen supporters did show up - and what they had to say was worrisome. Wakhweya and her attorney claim the push for her dismissal has racial undertones. She is the first African-American to head the agency, and she cites equal-opportunity hiring and minorities-assistance programs among her accomplishments.

The timing could hardly be worse. The county schools, the police department and the library system are facing complaints alleging discrimination. The county executive is going on trial this week on charges of abusing his powers, and is facing two civil lawsuits alleging discrimination against women. Former County Councilman Daryl Jones, an African-American, is awaiting an appeals court ruling on whether the council itself improperly removed him after his conviction on federal charges for failing to file a tax return.

Perhaps all of these allegations will be disproven and dismissed. Perhaps firing Wakhweya is the right thing to do and the state Health Department has more than adequate reasons that it won't disclose. But at the moment Anne Arundel County does not need yet another question of fairness added to the cloud of accusations hanging over its various branches of government.

The council was right to defer action until it has more information. It needs to act cautiously and fairly when the matter comes back before it on Tuesday. It needs to ask tough questions, share the answers with constituents and shed some light on this. It might not forestall another lawsuit, but the public deserves an effort to get some answers.