State answers questions about demoted Duval health director

Kelli Wells removed after Inspector General's Office confirms nepotism

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

Kelli Wells

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In addition to the director of the Duval County Health Department's demotion after state investigators found she created a job for her cousin, her pay was cut 18 percent -- from $161,000 annually to $130,000.

That was among the questions the Florida Department of Health answered about Kelli Wells late Friday, one week after she was removed from her job in Jacksonville.

The state also provided the memo in which the state surgeon general, Dr. Celeste Philip, notified Wells of her demotion from a deputy secretary of health in charge of the Duval County office to a medical executive director reporting to a deputy secretary in Tallahassee.

Wells is now working in St. Johns County, officials said.

The DOH confirmed that Wells' cousin, Andrea Sharpe, still holds the job of director of organizational development with a salary of $78,000.

The DOH Inspector General's Office investigation into Wells that was prompted by a complaint of nepotism was released March 30. The memo said her demotion and reduction in pay was effective April 5.

Asked if others who were aware of and signed off on Wells' creation of the job and hiring her cousin would face discipline, the state spokesman said he could not comment on personnel matters.

"There is no ambiguity in the state ethics law or DOH ethics policy regarding the hiring of one's relatives," the IG report found. "DOH management was negligent and failed in their responsibilities to ensure laws, policies and rules were followed."

DOCUMENTS: Inspector General's report on Kelli Wells |
Surgeon general's memo demoting Kelli Wells

The IG report described this as a management failure as it found that at least three deputy secretaries, two chiefs of staff, two general counsels and three attorneys "were either directly involved or had knowledge of" the relationship between Wells and Sharpe.

The report concluded that Wells was being untruthful during the investigation and provided deceptive responses during her sworn statements.

Wells has not returned calls for comment. 

Wells has been with Florida Department of Health since 2013. She is a graduate of Florida A&M University and attended medical school at the University of Florida. Among the various positions she previously held were associate professor positions at both FAMU and Florida State University's College of Medicine.

Erin Hess, who was administrator of the Marion County Health Department from 2015-2017, was named interim director in Duval County on Monday. She previously was administrator of the Okeechobee County Health Department.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.