What was previously a quiet, sequestered position has now been thrust into the limelight.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, county health officers have been equal parts championed and vilified, honored and harassed, for their controversial efforts to protect communities from the deadly coronavirus. Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell has been no exception.

Last week, a woman stood in Jackson’s Town Square with a sign: “Travis Riddell is not my mother.”

Despite the fact that Wyoming’s Legislature stripped health officers’ power to impose mask mandates beyond 10 days (giving that authority instead to county commissioners), Riddell has still been blamed for the masking requirement in Teton County, which has been in place since Aug. 26 to account for elevated transmissions caused by the delta variant.

Those who oppose Riddell’s leadership might be pleased to learn that health officer positions are approved for four-year terms, and Riddell’s term is nearing its completion.

On Nov. 16, the Teton County Board of Health will vet and appoint the valley’s next health officer. It could be Riddell again — he has every intention of serving another four years and seeing the pandemic through to its conclusion, and there are no limits to the number of terms he can serve. Health officials have expressed gratitude for Riddell’s leadership over the past eight years, and many of them expect him to continue serving.

That said, anyone can start the application process by emailing a letter of interest to public health director Jodie Pond at jpond@tetoncountywy.gov by the end of today, Nov. 10.

The letters will be posted online for the public to view and comment on, and the board will conduct public interviews before voting on a finalist.

The same process is in place to select the next deputy health officer, currently filled by Dr. Martin Trott. To qualify, applicants must have a degree of medicine, be an advanced practice registered nurse, or be a physician assistant.

State law differs depending on how municipalities manage public health. If there is an organized health department, like in Teton County, the local board of health appoints the health officer. If no such department exists, the officer is appointed by the board of county commissioners.

Teton County has its own additional routine where commissioners “affirm,” the health board’s officer appointment by resolution, which is technically subject to public comment.

Historically, it’s not been the sort of thing that fosters much discussion, but the role has also not been nearly as publicized (and politicized) during previous appointments.

Increased awareness of the officer job could mean an increased number of applicants this year (a few retired doctors in the community have expressed some interest), but the low pay, high stress and open controversy don’t make for a glamorous job description.

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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