The City won’t ask former Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick to repay money spent to relocate her to San Antonio in January, even though her resignation last month triggered a repayment clause in her employment agreement, according to a letter sent to Emerick.

Emerick stepped down as director of San Antonio’s health department on June 25, less than six months after she started the job, triggering a repayment clause in her employment agreement with the City.

“We know you committed long hours and much energy battling COVID-19 seven days a week since the arrival of the first evacuees from Wuhan, China, in February,” Human Resources Director Lori Steward wrote in a July 14 letter. “The circumstances of your first months of employment were extraordinary. 

“We appreciate the work you have done for this community and wish you well in your future endeavors.”

Under the offer letter that outlined her benefits as a new employee, the City agreed to cover up to $16,000 in eligible relocation costs. Those costs don’t have to be repaid unless the employee resigns within 36 months. Emerick was in her job less than five months.

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It’s unclear how much the City paid to Emerick in relocation costs. A request for that information is pending.

Emerick’s sudden resignation means the seventh-largest city in the U.S. will be trying to fill a vital public health leadership role amid a global pandemic. But even though the City won’t attempt to recoup the money it spent to bring Emerick to San Antonio from her former job in Oregon, it will not have to spend anything to conduct a search for her replacement.

The executive search firm that the City hired to find Emerick last year is contractually obligated to conduct a free search for her replacement because she resigned within 180 days. The City has yet to formally launch its search. 

The City hired Mercer Personnel Management Center, or Mercer Group, in 2019 to find the City’s next health director after Colleen Bridger was promoted to assistant city manager. The management consulting and executive search firm was paid $25,000 when Emerick accepted the job.

The firm worked with City officials to write the job description, promote the job posting, conduct reference and social media checks, and arrange three rounds of interviews with six short-listed candidates.

“After the top candidates met with the City Manager one-on-one, a decision was made to hire … Emerick,” a City spokeswoman said in an email.

A Mercer representative referred all questions to the City.

Emerick was given a starting annual salary of $185,000 and monthly allowances for a car ($500) and cellphone ($70).

Before coming to San Antonio, she served as the public health director in Benton County, Oregon, for just nine months. Previously, she had served as the public health director of Clackamas County, Oregon, since 2016.

Since Emerick’s departure, Bridger has served as interim director of the health department, a position she held for nearly two years before becoming assistant city manager.

Emails between Bridger and Emerick sent in June released this week detail a strained relationship and troubling communication patterns between them. Bridger ultimately sent a long list of complaints and examples of Emerick’s insubordination to the City’s attorney. Emerick resigned the next day. 

She clashed with her boss in Clackamas County, too, according to a report by KSAT-TV.

“At the urging of my family, I applied to pursue what we called my dream job [in San Antonio],”  Emerick said in a note posted on Twitter on Wednesday.  “Just prior to the in person interviews, I had some reservations and withdrew my application. It was Dr. Bridger who personally contacted me and persuaded me to reconsider and ultimately offered me the job.”

Her areas of expertise are in leadership and modernizing department “infrastructure using an equity and anti-racist lens,” she wrote. “At no point during the interview process was a request made for expertise in epidemiology.”

While there are several medical doctors and epidemiologists within the department, “I was unable to find the support needed to successfully lead the change I was hired to champion.”

In her resignation letter, Emerick said the position should be filled by a person of color.

“The residents of this community and the Metro Health workforce deserve a leader who can effectively relate to their personal experiences and who can be trusted to deconstruct systemic racism experienced by so many people of color every day,” she wrote.

Emerick is currently promoting her newly established firm, Dawn Emerick Consulting. Her website and LinkedIn profiles do not mention her brief employment with the City of San Antonio. She declined an interview request on Wednesday.

Bridger has indefinitely postponed her plans to step down and start her own consultancy firm. Her last day was supposed to have been July 17. 

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com