Anchorage Assembly questions health director appointee ahead of expedited confirmation vote

David Morgan, Anchorage Health Department director appointee.
David Morgan, Anchorage Health Department director appointee.(Rachel McPherron // Alaska's News Source)
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 8:25 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Assembly members grilled Mayor Dave Bronson’s health department director appointee Tuesday on his qualifications for the job, his understanding of public health and controversial comments he’s made about the pandemic.

David Morgan has been serving as director of the Anchorage Health Department since July 1. His position is subject to assembly approval and last week assembly members decided to expedite the process, scheduling the vote for Aug. 10 instead of Aug. 24 and holding a public work session on Tuesday.

Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant cited concerns over controversial comments Morgan has made in public and online as the reason for the assembly’s urgency in making a decision about his appointment.

Recent concerns stem, in part, from comments Morgan made during an interview with Alaska’s News Source last week. He was reluctant to say that the pandemic is ongoing, instead saying, “It’s a personal view kind of thing ... Pandemic is an adjective that describes a situation.”

Two days later, during another interview, Morgan said he should have stated, “we’re in a pandemic for the unvaccinated.”

During Tuesday’s confirmation hearing work session, Morgan was asked to define a pandemic, discuss his understanding of the health director’s role and answer for previous posts on social media.

Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson read a post he allegedly shared on Facebook that stated, “If you think the coronavirus panic in an election year right after three failed coup attempts against Trump is a coincidence, you might be dumb as a rock.”

“Implying that COVID was not real and was a hoax,” she said. “Can you please describe why you posted that and how you feel about that statement now?”

Morgan explained the post he shared was from a comedian whose emails he still receives daily, saying, “I didn’t really believe that, I just thought it was funny.”

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar asked Morgan to address post he shared in July of 2020 that implied the COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous, noting how misinformation is detrimental to a public health response.

“I don’t remember that, honestly,” Morgan said. “It’s hard for me to speak to it because it’s so disjointed, it doesn’t make any sense. So maybe it passed through and I moved it on, but in all honesty, I just don’t know.”

During the hearing, Morgan shared that Dr. Bruce Chandler no longer works with the Anchorage Health Department, saying he retired. The news follows other recent staff changes, including epidemiologist Dr. Janet Johnston’s resignation last week, and the subsequent hiring of chief medical officer Dr. Michael Savitt.

Morgan said he oversaw Savitt’s hiring, raising questions from Dunbar about comments he claimed Savitt posted online. The comments, according to Dunbar, promoted political conspiracies, criticized the assembly and mayor over COVID-19 restrictions and made claims about masks that contradict information from Alaska’s public health officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you had known about his statements regarding the 2020 election being stolen and China releasing the virus and masks not being effective and science not being followed in regard to COVID, you still would have recommended his hire?” Dunbar asked.

“I haven’t seen (the comments),” Morgan responded. “Probably, unless they were really, really out there. There is a difference of opinion on that stuff.”

Morgan said he’s advised Savitt to not have a Facebook account, just as he no longer does.

Savitt, during his first public comments in his new role, urged vaccinations and said those who are not vaccinated for COVID-19 should wear masks.

In defense of his capabilities, Morgan told the assembly he has 40 years of experience working in the health care industry, letters of endorsement from physicians, executive directors and former elected officials and experience working with several local organizations. He said he accounts for his lack of formal medical education in decades of experience and that he surrounds himself with physicians and a qualified team of managers in order to lead.

In his first month on the job, Morgan said he’s worked to hire nurses, address long wait times at COVID-19 testing sites and prepare a budget presentation for the mayor.

Assembly member Jamie Allard, who participated in the hearing by phone, complimented Morgan, calling him “diverse,” and voicing her support of his appointment.

Other assembly members left the work session with unanswered questions that Morgan agreed to answer by email before the vote on his confirmation on Aug. 10.

According to his offer letter, Morgan’s annual salary is $117,000. He needs the supporting vote of six assembly members to keep the job.

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