S. E. Williams | BVN Executive Editor
“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
Riverside County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser is out—unceremoniously removed last week.
Before the county’s jarring announcement could clear the airways, San Bernardino County residents learned of the unexpected retirement of its county’s Public Health Director, Corwin Porter—though the ink was hardly dry on the contract he signed just one year ago when he accepted the position.
Admittedly Porter served the county more than 30 years before taking the position and it is very possible, he accepted the job and increased salary, knowing he planned to retire within a year to increase his pension—far too many connected officials tend to do this—possibly assuming the poor taxpayers should be more than willing to be accountable for the higher pension obligation.
Who knows what negotiations take place “behind closed-doors”? I’m not saying this is what happened, I’m merely offering it as a possibility; however there may be other considerations as detailed below.
Regardless, neither his retirement, nor Kaiser’s possible dismissal appears in the best interest of residents as both counties continue to navigate their way through the worst pandemic in modern history.
It is no secret both Boards of Supervisors in these counties are dominated by right leaning supervisors even though these positions are supposed to be non-partisan. Does anyone really believe they are? Afterall both Riverside and San Bernardino have long histories of thriving Republican representation.
Those right leaning Republican tendencies were evident through the COVID nightmare of 2020 as again and again both supervisory boards fought tooth and nail against every precaution taken at the state level in attempts to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. For the most part, many—though certainly not all—supervisors spouted the same ridiculous rationale for opposing safety precautions as their discredited former president.
Now, in that same tradition, despite cautions from medical experts, scientists, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who all warn of the need to remain cautious and mindful as people continue to test positive and die, both counties have decided mid-stream, to make changes in their public health official.
Consider data from Friday, March 26. There were 75,756 new positive cases in the US; 3,374 in California; 124 new cases in Riverside County; and 160 new cases in San Bernardino County. Certainly, the tide is beginning to shift in a more hopeful direction as more and more people are vaccinated, but there is still a ways to go in that regard. Meanwhile, 1,260 Americans lost their lives to COVID-19 on Friday; among them, 217 Californians including 34 lives lost in Riverside County and there were 52 COVID-19 related deaths in San Bernardino County that day.
The ousting of both public health directors during a continuing pandemic seems far from prudent but when you have leaders that place politics over public health, we should not be surprised.
The Trumpish leaders in Riverside County thanked Kaiser for his service in a press release but readers could not miss the acerbic line which read, “[Kaiser] is no longer employed by the county which was a decision made by the county executive officer…”
Not surprisingly, Kaiser was brutally criticized on social media during the pandemic by critics—undoubtedly Trump Republicans—for the public health mask mandates and business guidelines imposed. It was easy to see through the brutish rhetoric as it was closely mirrored in lawsuits filed by both counties against Governor Newsom for the same reasons and echoed during conservative media appearances by none other than Riverside County’s Sheriff Bianco.
The retirement of Porter in San Bernardino County is a little more challenging to discern. In a press release the Board was effusive in its praise of his job performance. Porter himself stated, “Retiring now has been planned for quite some time.”
Yet, a statement from Porter reported by NBC News painted a different picture. “I feel like I’m leaving a little too early.” Those comments were not part of the county’s official press release.
What is known is that as cases surged late last year and San Bernardino County supervisors were suing Governor Newsom for the stay-at-home order, Porter made the following statements to the LA Times:
“It’s just surging all around us in our county, and that’s why we’re so deeply concerned,” county Public Health Director Corwin Porter said Wednesday. “It hasn’t peaked yet. It hasn’t stopped increasing.”
“It’s like throwing a pebble in a pond,” Porter said of the surge, which began shortly after Thanksgiving. “It’s been broadening out ever since.”
But Porter, the county health director, said he’s worried that holiday gatherings and travel will add to an already “scary situation.”
“COVID fatigue has set in,” he said. “I’m not sure if everyone’s listening anymore.”
The Republican coronavirus denialism was dangerous in 2020 and continues to be so. We can only hope the newly appointed public health officials—Arrowhead Regional Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Andrew Goldfrach who will serve as interim in San Bernardino County; and Dr. Geoffrey Leung newly appointed in Riverside County—can resist political pressures and adhere to the Hippocratic Oath of first – do no harm.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
S. E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.