LINCOLN — An Omaha pathologist has been chosen to serve as Nebraska’s top public health official.

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday announced the appointment of Dr. Thomas L. Williams as the state’s chief medical officer and director of the Division of Public Health. The appointment comes more than a year after the unexpected resignation of Dr. Joseph Acierno.

The Governor’s Office and Courtney Phillips, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, initially interviewed nearly two dozen candidates for the job, said Taylor Gage, the governor’s spokesman. Ricketts interviewed seven of the candidates.

Medical recruiting is a complex and time-consuming process, but making the right appointment was a top priority of the governor, Gage added.

“Williams stood out ... because of his wide-ranging experience and heart for public service,” Ricketts said.

Williams currently directs laboratory medicine and is chairman of the pathology department at Methodist Hospital. He also teaches pathology, the specialty related to the diagnosis of disease via lab testing, at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine.

Williams obtained a degree in chemistry from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his medical degree from the NU College of Medicine.

He will be paid $165,000 in his new position, which starts on Nov. 1. His predecessor was paid about $153,000 annually.

Acierno had held the position for about two years when he resigned in May 2015. He stepped down after the Nebraska Legislature initially voted against his confirmation but then reversed course under pressure from the governor.

It is rare for the Legislature to reject a gubernatorial appointment, but some lawmakers said that Acierno had been an obstacle to necessary reforms and responded defensively when presented with problems.

The Legislature will vote on Williams’ confirmation during its next session.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com

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