What is going on at the North Dakota Department of Health? It is a fair question. It is one of the many being asked following the news that another director was abruptly leaving while the pandemic is ongoing.

We deserve the answer in full as to why Dr. Andrew Stahl left. Stahl is the second Department of Health Director to resign since the pandemic hit North Dakota. Mylynn Tufte abruptly resigned that role in May. According to reports, both Stahl and Tufte have declined to comment on why they left the position as the top health official in the state.

Burgum has stated both left the role to pursue private-sector options. Some want us to take that blanket statement at face value. To me, it only leads to more questions. For example, are we not paying public employees enough to keep them in such important roles? Hopefully, the Legislature considers that question as they look at the budget.

It isn’t “political” to ask questions. I’d encourage people to ask questions and pursue answers. Sometimes it gets results. For example, residents and journalists asked why ND was determining the state’s positive rate differently than others. Now, there is more transparency in the state reports.

If anyone injected politics into this developing situation it was Burgum himself. As reported by Jeremy Turley on Stahl’s departure, Burgum said, “We’re not asking state health officers to take on economic risk, financial risk, legal risk, political risk – that’s not what they’re paid to do. Those decisions roll up to (the Governor’s) office in particular, and we have to look at a lot of different factors on how we’re making those decisions.”

Are we paying public employees enough to keep them? Is the state reporting data as transparently as possible? Is the “risk factor” of covid-19 still green across the state based on its own requirements? Did any “political risk” play a factor in Stahl’s departure? Is Doug Burgum difficult to work for in his state government position? It’s okay to ask.

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