LINCOLN — The state’s public health director resigned after a week in which members of the Nebraska Legislature questioned whether he was the right person for the job.
Dr. Joseph Acierno told staffers Friday that he was quitting that day.
“We’ve had many successes and challenges, too many to mention here. But we shared those experiences as a team,” he wrote in an email to state public health staffers. “I am proud of the work we accomplished and feel extremely fortunate to have known all of you.”
Kathie Osterman, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said Saturday that Acierno turned in his resignation Friday to Gov. Pete Ricketts. Acierno could not be reached for comment.
Acierno, who also served as the state’s chief medical officer, endured a rough week in which his confirmation initially was rejected by the Nebraska Legislature. But the next day the Legislature confirmed him on a 34-6 vote, in part at the encouragement of Ricketts, Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said.
Krist said Saturday that he voted against Acierno both times and was pleased to hear about his resignation.
“So I think he did the right thing and I wish him the best in his future endeavors, but I think the State of Nebraska is better off without him in that position,” Krist said. “He was an ego. And when it came to dealing with him on issues, he wasn’t responsive in any way to the constituency. ... He’s a person that is very, very sure — very sure — about what he is doing. And to take any input in seemed to be a problem for him.”
Ricketts praised the Omahan through a written statement Saturday. The governor said he was sorry that Acierno had left and that he should be recognized “for all of his wonderful contributions to the state.”
Among other things, Ricketts commended Acierno for working with the Nebraska Medical Center in its treatment of Ebola patients and his partnerships with local health departments.
“Dr. Acierno’s work has benefited countless Nebraskans and he will be missed in the Division of Public Health,” Ricketts said.
Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said Saturday he was “not overly impressed” with Acierno but felt he deserved a chance to show what he could do under Ricketts. Gloor said he suspected that former Gov. Dave Heineman had micromanaged Acierno.
Gloor initially withheld his vote for Acierno on Tuesday, but when it appeared Acierno would fall short of the 25 votes needed for confirmation, he voted for him. Acierno still didn’t garner enough support that day.
But Sen. Heath Mello, who had abstained in the original vote, filed a motion to reconsider on Wednesday. Acierno then received 34 votes and won confirmation.
Gloor said he believed that the Legislature had conveyed a message of dissatisfaction to Acierno and Ricketts. The senator said he was confident Acierno would be on close watch and would have a short leash, but he wasn’t at all upset upon hearing of the resignation.
“I had some differences of opinion with him,” Gloor said.
Acierno’s most recent salary was not immediately available. When Heineman appointed him to the job in early 2013, Acierno’s annual pay was $146,000. Before that he had been deputy chief medical officer for about six years. He holds medical and law degrees and joined the health and human services agency as an attorney in the regulation and licensing division.
Courtney Phillips, the new chief executive officer of the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a message to staffers that the department “will miss Joe and the expertise he brought to public health every day.”