Mark Lawley, director of the Weld County Department of Health and Environment, has resigned from his position.
The Weld County Board of Commissioners directed employees to begin a national search, according to a press release. Gene O’Hara will take on the role of interim director.
O’Hara is a retired health care executive who was most recently the chief executive officer of Colorado Plains Medical Center in Fort Morgan from 2014 to 2018. He previously served in the same capacity at North Colorado Medical Center from 2004-2009. He earned a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Colorado and has served on the Aims Community College Board of Trustees since 2017.
Lawley took on the role of assistant director in May 2020, a few months after the pandemic forced the US into lockdown. The commissioners appointed Lawley as executive director in December 2020 following the tumultuous departure of former executive director Mark Wallace.
In an interview with the NoCo Optimist, Commissioner Mike Freeman said it was “completely” Lawley’s decision to leave the company.
“And he leaves with all thanks and gratitude for guiding us through the worst public health disaster we have ever seen,” Freeman said.
Although the announcement of Lawley’s departure came on Thursday, some health department officials said he has not been seen in the office since August 9. As of Wednesday, health officials were aware of Lawley’s absence but not of his resignation. As of Thursday, Lawley had not set up out-of-office email.
Freeman said Lawley is using his three weeks of saved vacation time to finish his time at the health department. His official last day is September 1st.
Lawley previously spent 37 years in fire service for the Mountain View Fire Rescue in Longmont before retiring in 2017. He then spent a number of years as a strategic planning consultant and continued to work in government, corporate and nonprofit consulting.
According to a report by Colorado Hometown Weekly, Lawley left Mountain View Fire Rescue in 2017 in dismal circumstances a year before his contract expired. The board then voted unanimously to end the contract early after a one-hour board meeting.
In 2020, following Wallace’s departure, the Weld commissioners did not consider anyone else for the role, according to a Greeley Tribune report, despite receiving nearly 300 applications.
Freeman said that in 2020, the commissioners knew it could take several months to hire someone for the role and recruited Lawley to run the health department.
“We wanted someone there that we could trust and have complete confidence in to get the job done,” Freeman said.
Although Freeman said Lawley’s departure was amicable, he said he didn’t see it coming.
“I’m disappointed he’s leaving, but on the other hand, I totally understand,” Freeman said. “I have no doubt that running a public health department, especially during a pandemic, is one of the most damn stressful things to do.”
— Kelly Ragan is the founder and editor-in-chief of the NoCo Optimist. Normally she is responsible for the government of Greeley and Weld County. Do you have a tip? Let her know at [email protected] Do you like this coverage? Tell the Greeley Tribune so they keep her around. For more NoCo Optimist content, visit www.thenocooptimist.com.