County Council Removes Wakhweya Over Leadership Snafu
Councilmen said it wasn't racism, but a rift in leadership within the health department that led to the state's decision.
Anne Arundel County Council voted to remove the county's health officer from her leadership role despite the overwhelming objection of spectators at Tuesday's meeting.
More than 100 friends and supporters of former county health officer Angela M. Wakhweya attended the meeting on a frigid Tuesday evening—including Annapolis Alderman Kenneth Kirby (D-6th Ward).
Kirby tried to push a resolution through Annapolis City Council in support of Wakhweya at its Jan. 14 meeting, but he failed to secure the votes needed to pass the resolution on its first reading.
Council voted 4-2-1 to remove Wakhweya. Councilman Jamie Benoit (D-4th District) of Crownsville abstained, and Councilmen Chris Trumbauer (D-6th District) of Annapolis and Peter Smith (D-1st District) of Severn voted against the measure.
Two weeks earlier, the state asked council to support Wakhweya's removal at the request of Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland's Secretary of Mental Health and Hygiene. No reason was given for the request, other than that the department had lost confidence in her ability to lead.
At the time, council members complained about the lack of information on the issue. But after two weeks of investigation, some members agreed with the state's determination, with a compromise being reached that she be given 60 days of paid leave, and a chance to seek another job within the state.
Councilman John Grasso (R-2nd District) of Glen Burnie said that while Wakhweya was clearly a good person, her role as a leader within the department wasn't working out.
"We put her into the trenches, and she stumbled along, and no one helped her out, and we've got the situation we've got today," Grasso said.
Councilman Smith was Wakhweya's most vocal supporter on the council. He said the county administration and the state were at fault for not guiding Wakhweya through a treacherous leadership role within the department.
Simply removing Wakhweya from the position wouldn't fix the issue in the long run, Smith said.
"She was placed in a minefield. If we want to fix the issue, let's remove the mines," Smith said.
Smith conducted interviews with health department employees. He said Wakhweya's "strong-willed approach" to leadership drove a wedge between her and others.
"This path unfortunately created friction which ultimately tore the fabric of cohesiveness within the department," Smith said.
Though there were allegations of racial tension in the department throughout testimony from Wakhweya's supporters, Smith said he did not find evidence of that in his investigation. Council Chairman Jerry Walker (R-7th District) of Gambrills agreed, saying he did not believe discrimination was the reason the state sought her removal.
Councilman Dick Ladd (R-5th District) of Broadneck said there appeared to be a problem within the health department, and new leadership may root it out.
"I personally believe that the best way forward for the Department of Health and the county is to have new leadership to deal with the situation—whatever it is—inside the department that caused the situation to develop into what it is today," Ladd said.
Despite the county's decision, Alderman Kirby said he still intends to bring his resolution in support of Wakhweya's work for Annapolis to a vote in City Council.
"It hasn't changed anything for me," Kirby said. "I still intend to vote for the resolution."
While Kirby, a vocal supporter of Wakhweya, acknowledged that she may have "rubbed people the wrong way," he said her work during her 14-month tenure on HIV and Diabetes has been exemplary.