Emails detail feud between former San Antonio Metro Health director, assistant city manager before resignation

Records detail Dawn Emerick's departure from Metro Health

Five days before San Antonio Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick resigned from her post, an internal email revealed a conflict between Emerick and Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger.

SAN ANTONIO – Five days before San Antonio Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick resigned from her post, an internal email revealed a conflict between Emerick and Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger. That email is one of dozens obtained by KSAT on Monday under public information law that lays out details surrounding Emerick’s resignation.

Emerick had surprised city officials when she submitted her resignation, which was accepted on June 25 by City Manager Erik Walsh. Her resignation came amid a rising tide in COVID-19 cases in Bexar County.

On June 20, Emerick sent an email to Human Resources Director Lori Steward about her contentious and tumultuous relationship with Bridger, who has since become interim director of Metro Health, records show.

Emerick revealed she suggested to Bridger on May 5 engaging in a third-party mediator to resolve conflicts they had, though Bridger “did not feel we needed mediation,” Emerick wrote.

“Our working and professional relationship has become mutually fractured, broken and unproductive,” Emerick wrote to Steward.

That led Emerick to formally request a third-party mediation with Bridger and asked Steward to help with the request.

On the following morning, Emerick emailed City Manager Erik Walsh, telling him she will no longer “proactively communicate” with him without speaking to Bridger first, records show.

“I want it to be very clear to Dr. Bridger that I am not engaging you in any way without her knowing about it,” Emerick wrote.

Emerick included a paragraph Bridger apparently wrote to her in a separate email.

“I would also like to document my reminder to you that you not text/email the City Manager with requests without talking with me first or at the very least including me in the text/email. City protocol is that employees include their supervisors in communications with the City Manager,” Bridger wrote, according to Emerick’s email.

An email from Bridger sent that Wednesday to Steward revealed that City Attorney Andy Segovia was “working on a written warning” for Emerick due to insubordination.

Bridger wrote that “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,” she wrote.

Bridger included an extensive list of issues she had with Emerick, which started from the first week Emerick was on the job. The complaints against her were put in three categories — insubordination, rude and condescending behavior and “lack of basic understanding” of epidemiology and public health science.

In one of Bridger’s first coaching sessions with Emerick, Bridger said she had to ask Emerick to stop putting her hands on her, according to the email.

Bridger also claimed Emerick was regularly “unaware of changes” to processes shared by the San Antonio Fire Department or the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which oversees hospitals throughout the region.

Bridger also said “multiple employees expressed concern about Dawn’s being rude, condescending and demeaning” to staff members.

Emerick acknowledged at least one complaint against her from a staff member in a June 10 email.

“I didn’t realize I came across that way. I am a bit embarrassed about it,” she wrote.

But worst of all, Bridger wrote, “there is also a glaring deficit in her ability to understand and explain epidemiology and basic public health science.”

“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,” Bridger wrote.

Following the released emails, Walsh issued this statement:

“Dr. Emerick’s departure was clearly in the best interest of all parties. We are grateful for her efforts while she was here. Dr. Bridger has implemented significant and overdue improvements in her three weeks since taking over as director of Metro Health. We are fortunate that she has committed to seeing through the response to this public health crisis.”

KSAT has reached out to Emerick for a statement or interview since her resignation, but she has not yet responded. On Monday, KSAT requested comment from Bridger.

READ MORE: Metro Health Director wants person of color to replace her, per resignation letter

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.

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.