STOCKTON — After Tuesday’s marathon public meeting, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors adjourned to closed session to interview an undisclosed candidate for the new job of chief medical examiner.
But one of the supervisors in the closed session, Tom Patti, said Wednesday he already knows who the best candidate is: renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who resigned from his position with the county one year ago.
“I feel very strongly that we would be best served by Dr. Omalu,” Patti said, voicing concern Omalu is not being considered.
“I think he feels alienated. I think he feels ostracized, unwelcome here. We clearly have the most qualified pathologist candidate or medical examiner candidate … that you could ever dream of having.”
Omalu, who is not a candidate for the job at this point, did not respond to an interview request Wednesday.
Supervisors voted earlier this year to create a new Office of the Medical Examiner, which must be in place by July 1, 2020. The establishment of the new, independent office is directly tied to clashes Omalu and fellow former pathologist Dr. Susan Parson said they had with Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore before both resigned their positions late in 2017.
County Administrator Monica Nino said Wednesday she expects at least one more candidate to interview for the Chief Medical Examiner position, probably in early January.
Nino declined to discuss Omalu’s situation. But she did say that the person who ultimately becomes the inaugural Chief Medical Examiner will need administrative experience in addition to the credentials required to serve as a forensic pathologist.
“It’s important they have had experience functioning in a medical examiner’s office and modeling the behavior they would like their physicians and civilian staff to exhibit,” Nino said.
“This is what we would expect from any new department head who is creating and taking over a new department, that they exhibit strong leadership skills, know how to manage, and that they’ve exhibited this in their history.”
Patti, advocating for Omalu, noted that the pathologist famed for his groundbreaking studies of the brain damage suffered by numerous deceased NFL players also holds a master’s degree in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
“I think that Dr. Omalu is keenly qualified,” Patti said.
Supervisor Miguel Villapudua also voiced support for Omalu.
“I believe Dr. Omalu is probably in the top 10 in the United States,” Villapudua said.
Supervisors Kathy Miller and Chuck Winn avoided discussing Omalu specifically, speaking more generally about respecting the integrity of the hiring process. Board Chairman Bob Elliott did not respond to an interview request.
“From my perspective, I am reserving judgment, as I would in any recruitment, until all the interviews are conducted and we have all the information necessary to make a decision on the best candidate,” Miller said. “We’re not there yet.”
Said Winn: “If Dr. Omalu files an application and goes through the screening process and comes to the board, I can make an evaluation of whether he’s the right person.”
According to Patti, a prerequisite for interviewing for the position is to undergo a background check conducted by the Sheriff’s Office.
He said his understanding is that Omalu is reluctant to undergo a background check that would be conducted by an agency headed by Moore, who was defeated by Pat Withrow in June in his bid for a fourth term.
Patti said he believes Omalu would be more receptive to undergoing the background check once Withrow, an Omalu supporter, is sworn in Jan. 7. Moore did not respond to a phone message Wednesday.
“It didn’t work out with the previous sheriff, but we have a new sheriff in town getting sworn in soon,” Villapudua said. “I think (Omalu and Withrow) would work well together.”
Said Patti: “I’m hopeful that Dr. Omalu would at some point feel comfortable in doing a background check. If he’s able to come before the board I would be very hopeful and optimistic he would be treated fairly. If he’s the best candidate, as I believe he is, he should have the job.”
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.