The future of the top health official in Floyd County, Indiana continues to be thrown into question after county commissioners postponed certification of another term for health officer Dr. Tom Harris.

The Floyd County Health Department board of directors recently reappointed Harris to his leadership role, but the four-year extension should be certified through the Floyd County commissioners, the local legislative and executive body. The 3 commissioners, all Republicans, were likely to act at Tuesday's meeting.

But they unanimously voted to table consideration of his extension, just hours after Harris released new restrictions for bars and restaurants. The county’s 7-day rolling average for daily COVID-19 cases has doubled since October.

Commissioner Tim Kamer said Harris's orders didn't play a role in his motion to table the certification.

“In my public job, I'm confronted with really hard decisions all the time, so I need to take the noise out of the equation,” Kamer said. “For this exact example, I didn't even take that into consideration- It had been really focusing solely on if this is the best person for the job, both now and in the near future.”

Harris, that has been the county's health officer since 2006, what food was in Tuesday's meeting. During public comment, he questioned the commissioners about their decision.

Over the following month or two, Harris said the health department must decide regarding several important matters, including vaccine administration and school plans for next semester. His current contract ends January 1, and uncertainty over who'll lead the department “inhibits the reaction to the pandemic,” he said.

“I think I've got a right to some input regarding why the commissioners are tabling the certification,” Harris said at the meeting. “It helps me plan for the near future. It helps our organization plan for the near future. By tabling it, it puts me in an awkward position of attempting to make plans that somebody else will have to implement.”

Harris couldn't be reached for additional comment.

Commissioners intend to talk with the health department board of directors Friday. Kamer said he's received recommendations and feedback concerning the health officer position using their company county officials, families of first responders and New Albany Floyd County Schools board members. The intent from the meeting, Kamer said, would be to ensure the board of directors is “hearing what he's hearing,” and that they're “on the same page.”

“If the board says we do not really have any other choice and we're just going to move forward with him and that we don't want to shake up in the middle of the pandemic, [I'm] simply looking to determine what options we've,” Kamer said. “If they want to extend him to get through the pandemic and want to look at additional options, I want to understand that. But when they really seem like he's the individual you heard right to do the job and there's unanimous consent, then I'll back that up.”

Shawn Carruthers, president from the commissioners and the Floyd County GOP chair, declined to discuss the performance from the health department and Harris during the pandemic. Like Kamer, Carruthers wants to make certain people in the health board of directors are “on exactly the same page” as the commissioners.

Because of the entire appointment, Carruthers said the person chosen as health officer ought to be right for the task “not just for today or even the next couple of months, but 4 years from now.”

“We're looking to the near future to make sure that the health department is within a place where we want to be four years from now to service the community,” he said. “Dr. Harris continues to be the officer since, I think, 2006, which is quite a long time. He's done well. But like I said, we're looking to the future. You want to see what else is offered that we should be preparing for.”

Kamer said he doesn't expect it to be a “binary decision,” which a transition from Harris would need a period of collaboration to ensure potential candidates have plenty of time to obtain acquainted with the role.

Carruthers said the six weeks until Harris's contract expires is enough time for you to look for a candidate, if a alternation in leadership is sought. He doesn't believe a shakeup in the health department would modify the county's response to the pandemic, even as COVID-19 cases still surge locally and throughout Indiana.

“There's lots of other agencies that are a part of taking care of this pandemic,” Carruthers said. “To switch leadership won't be detrimental. We're switching administrations for president right now, in the actual center of the same pandemic, so I don't believe it is going to cost the county any great deal. There are people who have the capability and willing to step up and move us through this short-term and have a vision for the future, too.”

The commissioners next scheduled meeting is Dec. 1. Kamer said he expects to “have enough information and data” by then to come to a decision and obtain Harris's certification around the agenda.

“It's not my play to help keep kicking this down the road making a situation uncomfortable or not advantageous for [Harris] or even the health department,” Kamer said. “I really am just trying to do my research. There's no side schemes or anything here. Let us get the reality, let's make certain we're making the best call, then move ahead.”

The Indiana State Department of Health currently lists Floyd County within the “orange category,” which indicates high community spread. Harris ordered bars to shut at 10 p.m. and restaurants to reduce ability to 75% through Dec. 21. New Albany Floyd County Schools are shifting to virtual learning with the end from the semester starting Monday.