Council Approves Lopez As Health Director

Lincoln, NE (August 17, 2020) The Lincoln City Council voted to suspend its rules Monday in order to introduce, take public testimony, and vote on the nomination of Pat Lopez as city-county health director in the same day.

Lopez has been serving as interim health director for a little over a year, since the death of her predecessor, Shavonna Lausterer. Her authority was questioned in part of a lawsuit filed two weeks ago by a local Bowling Alley she ordered closed due to non-compliance with the mask mandate.  The suspension of the rules allowed the first reading, public hearing and vote to be taken on the same day.

The process started with Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird making the nomination.

“We have both navigated challenges that are more familiar, and, of course, the extraordinary challenges of 2020. I know that her leadership and grace and expertise has been greatly appreciated across the community.”

Next came the Public Hearing.

For nearly two hours, citizens testified in opposition.  Several criticized the suspension of the rules, saying that Lopez had served in office for a full year, indicating that there was no rush to complete the process in one day.  Others criticized Lopez directly.

Gretchen Hess, a part owner of the Brass Rail bar, said the Health Department was unfair when it shut down her family business.

“The Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department was supposed to hand deliver letters stating a forced closure could and would happen if found to be in non-compliance.  Only problem is that they weren’t delivered to every bar.”

Ben Madsen, General Manager of Madsen’s Bowling and Billiards, whose business was in the public eye for several days of a shutdown over the mandate, said he still believes Lopez did not have the authority to close his business down.

“Why would we enforce a law that isn’t a law to begin with, because, obviously, it was proven in court that she doesn’t have the power to come up with the DHM.”

Following the Public Hearing, before a vote could be taken on the nomination, Councilman Roy Christensen voted to “divide the question”, a legislative process that forces a vote on each of separate issues contained in a motion.  Christensen’s motion first called for a vote on whether to hire Lopez and then a vote on whether the Council would ratify all actions taken by Lopez while employed as interim Director.  Her hiring was approved unanimously, but the vote on approving all past actions was 6-1 with Christensen voting no.

The nomination goes before the Lancaster County Board and Board of Health Tuesday.

COVID Cases Lowest Since Week Ending July 4th