Outside search firm will help find Emerick’s replacement for free after Metro Health director’s quick departure

City of San Antonio: Mercer Group and city had 180-day commitment guarantee; no timeline for new search

Records reveal more behind hiring process for former San Antonio Metro Health director

SAN ANTONIO – The group that helped place Dawn Emerick at the head of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District will help find her replacement after her quick departure.

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

The city had a 180-day search commitment guarantee with the Mercer Group, a management consulting and executive search firm that helped fill the director role, for any candidate that was selected, according to the city. Because Emerick’s resignation came within that window, the firm will launch the search for her replacement free-of-charge and help fill her position.

However, 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.

It took the city almost nine months to settle on Emerick as director after Bridger was promoted from the position to assistant city manager on Mar. 1, 2019. In the meantime, assistant director of community health Jennifer Herriott was appointed interim director. She remains at Metro Health as deputy director over the community health division.

Emerick was selected as the permanent director after a nationwide search that included three rounds of interviews, according to information provided by the city.

When her hiring was announced in a Nov. 27, 2019, news release, Walsh said Emerick had “exceptional experience at the forefront of public health policy and a proven record of coordinating and implementing important public health initiatives,” while Bridger said she was “confident that (Emerick) will provide excellent leadership to Metro Health.”

A few months and part of a pandemic later, their attitudes had changed.

The day before Emerick resigned, Bridger wrote a lengthy email to city human resources listing what she said were examples of Emerick’s “insubordination;” “rude, condescending behavior with staff and partners;” and a “lack of basic understanding of epidemiology/public health science.”

Walsh said Monday, upon the release of that email and others that detailed the strained relationship between Emerick and Bridger, that “Dr. Emerick’s departure was clearly in the best interest of all parties.”

On Tuesday, a city spokeswoman provided emailed responses about the process to hire and vet Emerick in the first place.

The city had contracted with Mercer Personnel Management Center to conduct the search, which included drafting a brochure and advertising the position beginning in late summer 2019.

The city was presented with an “initial slate” of candidates in October, which was whittled down to six health officials from departments around the country, including Emerick, who was the Health Department director in Benton County, Oregon, at the time.

Mercer conducted reference checks with four people who had worked with Emerick in her career, including her manager at the time, according to the city. A Benton County spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday the county administrator had given a “fair assessment” to a third-party recruiter.

Emerick and the other five candidates were interviewed by two separate panels of “city leadership and community stakeholders,” though the city would not release the identity of the panel members without an open records request, which KSAT submitted Tuesday. The city’s response is still pending.

According to the city’s responses, “after the top candidates met with the City Manager one-on-one a decision was made to hire Dr. Emerick.”

Reached by text message on Tuesday, Bridger referred any questions about Emerick to Walsh.

Emerick did not return requests for comment on Tuesday about the newly released emails.

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.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.