Emerick’s personnel records from Oregon reveal clashes with another health executive

Emerick accused former boss of 'culture of intimidation and dysfunction' before resigning weeks later

Eighteen months before she resigned as San Antonio’s health director amid tensions with an assistant city manager, Dawn Emerick clashed with another health department executive at a previous job in northwest Oregon, according to public records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

Clackamas County, Oregon – Eighteen months before she resigned as San Antonio’s health director amid tensions with an assistant city manager, Dawn Emerick clashed with another health department executive at a previous job in northwest Oregon, according to public records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

In December 2018, while public health director of Clackamas County, Oregon, Emerick provided Human Resources there a list of close to 20 issues she had with the county’s health, housing and human services director.

Emerick, who sent the complaint to HR from a personal email account, stated that HHS Director Richard Swift was not communicating properly, took credit for work that was not his own and fostered a “culture of intimidation and dysfunction.”

Records show Emerick submitted her resignation to Swift weeks later, in January 2019.

Her resignation did not take effect until March 1 of that year.

Records show a Clackamas County HR employee reached out to Emerick via email in April 2019, after Emerick had started her new job as health department director of Benton County, in western Oregon.

“I am sooooo much happier now that I am gone from his department and his thumb that I am ok with just leaving this alone at this point,” wrote Emerick, who apologized in the email for not being more responsive.

It appears Emerick did not respond to several subsequent emails from the HR employee that asked if Emerick wanted to formally withdraw her complaint against Swift.

Swift remains the county’s HHS director and it appears he assumed Emerick’s former role for a time, as he is also listed on the county’s website as its interim public health director.

The Defenders found a media release from last month naming a new public health director for the county, however.

Swift did not respond to an email and a phone message seeking comment Wednesday.

Records released by Clackamas County did not include Swift’s response to the allegations.

Emerick has not responded to repeated requests for comment about her work history or the circumstances around her resignation, but she released a statement on social media Wednesday afternoon.

“Despite my efforts and requests for collaboration and assistance, I was unable to find the support needed to successfully lead the change I was hired to champion. I remain extremely proud of my equity work during my short time at Metro Health. I make no apologies for holding the city accountable for ending racism,” the statement read.

A fair assessment

Officials in Benton County, where Emerick worked less than a year before taking the San Antonio Metropolitan Health position, said she resigned for “a personal reason” and that her departure was not related to her performance.

A county spokeswoman said via telephone Tuesday Emerick completed her six-month probationary period but had not reached a full year of service when she resigned.

The spokeswoman also said the county administrator spoke with a third-party recruiter regarding Emerick and that he had given her a fair assessment.

Benton County officials have not yet handed over Emerick’s personnel file for her tenure there.

Internal friction becomes public

Emerick stepped down as director of Metropolitan Health on June 25 following documented friction between her and her supervisor, former Metro Health director and current Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger. Emerick had been hired in November 2019 and began work in late January, shortly before the first plane of evacuees arrived in San Antonio from Wuhan, China.

The executive search firm that helped place Emerick as the head of the health department here will launch a search for her replacement free-of-charge, since Emerick left her position within 180 days of starting.

5 takeaways from fallout between former Metro Health director, assistant city manager

San Antonio city officials have not settled on a timeline to find the next director, nor has the job been posted. In the meantime, Bridger has taken on the role of interim director and delayed her own plans to leave city government.

Bridger provided a detailed history of her issues with Emerick after learning City Attorney Andy Segovia was in the midst of giving Emerick a written warning for insubordination. Bridger wrote that she “realized nobody had the full picture of the extent to which Dawn is routinely insubordinate nor the extent to which she is rude and demeaning with her staff.”

Emerick exhibited “a pattern of inappropriate, disrespectful comments that she would sometimes apologize for saying later,” Bridger wrote. When Bridger requested something from Emerick, Emerick would either say “it was a dumb request or that she couldn’t do everything” asked of her.

City staff regularly complained about Emerick’s demeanor, Bridger wrote.

“Multiple employees expressed concern about Dawn being rude, condescending and demeaning of (epidemiological) staff on calls with multiple people,” Bridger wrote.

But most crucially, Bridger claimed Emerick lacked the qualifications for the job.

“There is also a glaring deficit in her ability to understand and explain epidemiology and public health science,” Bridger wrote.

It would result in Bridger having to fix the mistakes, she claimed.

“I spend several hours a day verifying, correcting, fielding phone calls from people trying to double check her information because they’ve all learned she can’t be relied upon,” she wrote.

Emerick, meanwhile, also documented issues she had with Bridger.

Emails obtained by the Defenders Monday revealed Emerick suggested to Bridger on May 5 that they engage a third-party mediator to resolve conflicts they had.

Emerick wrote that Bridger “did not feel we needed mediation.”

“Our working and professional relationship has become mutually fractured, broken and unproductive,” Emerick wrote to Human Resources Director Lori Steward on June 20.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.