Fired Oklahoma Pharmacy Board official may sue
The top official at the state agency that regulates pharmacists and drugstores was fired Wednesday after coming under criminal investigation.
The Oklahoma Pharmacy Board voted 5-0 to fire Chelsea Church, 46, effective immediately.
Her attorney already is working on a possible wrongful termination lawsuit.
"Absolutely, we'll certainly look into every remedy that's available to her," the attorney, Tracy Schumacher, told The Oklahoman. "And, folks, to act with such haste, it's just not responsible."
The attorney also said, "She loved her job and she took her responsibilities very seriously."
The vote came at a special meeting just days after Church came under investigation over her texts about medical marijuana. Church did not attend the meeting.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether Church offered a bribe — a higher paying job — to a Health Department lawyer on July 7 in an attempt to influence medical marijuana rules.
Church took over the agency's top spot a year ago after the previous executive director died. She began working for the Pharmacy Board in 2012 as a compliance officer.
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Her salary as executive director was $130,000 a year.
Her attorney had warned the six board members in a letter before the meeting that Church "will pursue all remedies available to her" if they took action on her employment.
Five members voted to fire her after the board returned from an 82-minute closed executive session. Board members gave no public explanations for the decision.
The board's president, Kyle Whitehead, called the special meeting but did not vote himself. Under board rules, the president only votes when there is a tie.
State voters in June approved a state question legalizing medical marijuana. On July 7, the Health Department's general counsel, Julie Ezell, was working on drafting proposed rules.
Church was among those pushing for a rule requiring dispensaries to hire a pharmacist.
In texts between them July 7, Ezell joked about quitting at the Health Department and coming to work for the Pharmacy Board.
"PLEASE!!!!" Church replied.
"You get me a pharmacist in dispensary and then come to our office. I guarantee I can do more than u have now," Church also texted, adding an emoji that was winking and sticking its tongue out.
In a later text, Church wrote: "If this settles down, I would honestly love to talk to You about OSBP.
"We have statutory authority for an attorney and I think u would b a great fit. U tell me what it would take for u to jump and we need to talk!!!!"
Church's attorney told the board's attorney in a letter that the one text message "does not present the full picture."
Schumacher, a former Cleveland County district judge, said Church had been working for months at the board's direction to come up with rules involving pharmacists if the state question passed.
The attorney said she had wanted to present the board with stacks of emails about Church's efforts including one July 1 that praised Church for her "really good work."
"Wasn't even given that opportunity," Schumacher complained.
About the texts about a job, Schumacher said Church didn't have the authority to offer a position herself.
Despite those texts, Ezell did not include the pharmacist requirement in the proposed rules.
The Board of Health on July 10 adopted the requirement anyway, against Ezell's advice. The Board of Health is expected to reconsider the requirement at a special meeting next week.
Ezell is no longer with the Health Department. She resigned as general counsel July 13 after confessing to the OSBI she sent threatening emails to herself. She is now facing a criminal charge over the faked emails.