Health board votes to buy out official's contract

GILMAN — The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department board has agreed to buy out the remaining four months of Administrator Doug Corbett's contract, ending his five-year tenure with the agency.

The 5-3 vote came late Tuesday night after a two-hour closed session with Corbett that ended just before midnight. A multitude of what public officials alleged was unprofessional and unlawful behavior by Corbett had surfaced publicly in the past several months.

Corbett, who left the meeting without commenting, was not at his office in Watseka on Wednesday, and a woman who answered the phone said he would not be there for the next four months.

Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine and Ford County State's Attorney Matt Fitton, who serve as the health department's legal counsel, said Corbett remains under contract as administrator of the health department for the time being.

Devine noted that "the details have yet to be worked out" regarding the exact amount of compensation Corbett will be provided. Devine said the contract buyout will be finalized "as soon as possible."

"We are still working with the attorneys to draw up the contract to see if it's agreeable to both sides," said the board of health's president, Dr. Kevin Brucker of Gibson City. "Then after that, it's done."

Devine said Corbett will be paid his salary for the remainder of his contract, which expires Nov. 30. Corbett will also receive his full benefits until Nov. 30.

Corbett's annual salary is $89,116, according to his contract. Four months of his salary is equivalent to $29,705.

Brucker said an interim administrator will be named. Brucker said he had "no idea" when a permanent administrator would be hired, but he said he expects the board to advertise the position and "use a headhunter, most likely."

Brucker was the only board of health member representing Ford County to vote in favor of the buyout. Besides Brucker, board members voting in favor of the buyout were Iroquois County representatives Rod Copas of rural Onarga, Michelle Fairley of Gilman, Lauren Luecke of Watseka and Dr. Ted Fifer of Effingham, who was appointed by the Iroquois County Board to fill a vacancy on the board of health earlier Tuesday.

Voting no were Ford County representatives Dr. Bernadette Ray of Gibson City, the Rev. Teddy Jensen of Piper City and Elynor Stagen of Gibson City.

Board members declined to comment on the decision.

Corbett has been administrator of the health department since March 1, 2008, following the retirement of Dr. John A. Pickering. A native of Belleville, Corbett came to the health department following a 3-1/2-year tenure as deputy administrator of the Perry County Health Department in Pinckneyville.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's vote, Fitton had said he believed Corbett could not be legally fired from his position without being convicted of a felony crime.

Corbett's contract — acquired by the Paxton Record through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act — states that he is employed by the agency through Nov. 30, with termination possible only if a disability prevents him from performing his duties, he dies, or he is convicted of a felony crime.

Fitton confirmed in June that discussions about offering a severance package to Corbett had taken place. That was one option that resulted from a meeting on June 13 of Ford County Board Chairman Rick Bowen, Fitton, Devine and Copas, who also serves as Iroquois County Board chairman.

Corbett has been a target of criticism by Iroquois County officials in recent months — first, over his decision to use local taxpayer revenue to start a home-health branch in two neighboring Indiana counties, then over his decision to award a $123,000 contract to the husband of a health department employee for the installation of solar panels on the agency's offices.

At the Iroquois County Board's July meeting, Copas alleged grant money from the 2008 flood in Watseka was used to install a new septic system on an employee's property, despite no documentation that the property had any flood damage.

Copas also said that Corbett, during his five-year employment by the health department, reduced the qualifications necessary for certain positions so that he could hire his "friends" who did not have the required skills.

Other accusations included removing prescription medicine from the "national stockpile" and then distributing the drugs to staff members and their family — despite them not having prescriptions and without the approval of the nurse in charge of that program.

Copas also revealed that during a two-hour closed session by the board of health on May 20, the board discussed a nurse's allegation that Corbett had contacted her doctor, who also serves as the health department's medical officer, in an attempt to "get her driver's license taken away for two weeks."

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