The District's new public health director will be paid $227,000 in salary and benefits, making him the highest-paid city employee appointed by the mayor.
At a news conference yesterday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said that Ivan C.A. Walks, a 42-year-old neuropsychiatrist, will receive $198,000 a year plus an additional 15 percent in benefits to attract him in a competitive market. The health director's post has been vacant for 14 months as Williams (D) and his predecessor, Marion Barry, struggled to fill a position known within the nation's public health community for its instability.
Mohammad N. Akhter, the city's former director of public health and now the executive director of the American Public Health Association, characterized Walks's salary as "way on the upper end," saying that the average salary for health directors was $100,000.
"But then this job is twice as difficult," Akhter said. "This is the toughest public health job in the country. To attract good people, you have to pay." Akhter annually made $91,000 and $13,000 in benefits as health director from 1991 to 1994.
The appointment of Walks, an executive with a Falls Church managed care company, would have to be confirmed by the D.C. Council, but he is set to take over the Health Department--the largest of several D.C. health care agencies and the operator of the Medicaid program--and its $1.3 billion budget on Sept. 13. Walks was previously a Los Angeles County mental health commissioner.
Williams said D.C. law permits salaries for medical officials to be up to 20 percent over the city cap. Comparatively, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman each receive a $150,000 salary. D.C. Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden receives $165,000. The court-appointed receiver for mental health makes $225,000, and the receiver for corrections is paid $195,000.
D.C. health statistics--on life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality, HIV and AIDs, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and chronic diseases, and on the number of residents with no health insurance--rank the city well behind other major cities, and behind the nation as a whole.
"I think it's a lot of money," said D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6). "But there is no question that we have a very complex public health situation, and the fact that it has taken so long to find someone qualified to take it on probably augurs for paying top dollar."
Williams also appointed Darlene R. Taylor to direct the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, Charly Carter to direct the Office of the Public Advocate and G. Greg Chen to direct Asian and Pacific Islander affairs. Carlene Ruth Cheatam will be liaison to the gay and lesbian community, and Ken Snyder will direct the communications department.
Staff writer Eric Lipton contributed to this report.