As Grayson County Health Department Director John Teel ran through the accomplishments of his organization during his three-year tenure, it seemed almost like he was attempting to speak using only 25 letters of the alphabet: "I" was conspicuously absent. There was a smattering of we’s, a few us’s, but the vast majority of Teel’s 45-minute farewell speech to his staff — he’s resigning next Wednesday for a job in Plano — was delivered in the second person. Each of the 25 success stories he listed was attributed to individuals in the audience.

As Grayson County Health Department Director John Teel ran through the accomplishments of his organization during his three-year tenure, it seemed almost like he was attempting to speak using only 25 letters of the alphabet: "I" was conspicuously absent. There was a smattering of we’s, a few us’s, but the vast majority of Teel’s 45-minute farewell speech to his staff — he’s resigning next Wednesday for a job in Plano — was delivered in the second person. Each of the 25 success stories he listed was attributed to individuals in the audience.


"Presenting you with a problem and you men and women problem solving it has been an amazing thing to watch," Teel told the group. "So my sincere hope is the (staff in Plano) has your critical thinking skills and the same fire in their belly for public service."


Chief among the Department’s triumphs championed by Teel was the recent battle against a tough outbreak of dysentery caused by shigella bacteria. After patient zero was discovered in October, county health officials fought the nation’s third-largest epidemic of the disease tooth and nail for more than five months before finally eradicating it among the population at the beginning of February.


"Let me brag on you all one more time about your shigella work," said Teel to his staff. "In my 35 years in public health, I’ve never seen that quality of work on one disease outbreak in my career. It was stunning to watch. And you did it from this command post and out in the field and from your offices and from your telephones. So that it was a big, big job, and it was fun to declare that thing over with."


Another bit of Department work Teel seemed particular engaged by was his employees’ efforts to establish an Online Foodservice Manager Training class. Health Department officials are currently working to make the class nationally certified, which would turn it into something of a cash cow for the Department.


"When I got here, y’all were already working on that, and I sort of just rolled my eyes back in my head; I couldn’t believe you already had an online food handlers course," said Teel. "Just thinking of it — my gosh. But then making it come true took years. And now it’s up and running with a public-private partnership. … What a cool thing that is."


The county’s Women, Infants, and Children program was also near and dear to Teel’s heart, judging by his remarks. The director highlighted WIC’s hiring of a dietitian, a new, online scheduling system and the flying-colors passing of its 2013 federal audit.


"WIC is a stunning program in this county anyway, but look what you did in the last three years," said Teel. "The WIC audit is about as intense as I’ve ever seen. They bring a team, and they just audit you until you almost can’t breathe. … That was a home run you guys hit on that WIC audit."


Teel used the closing portion of the meeting to lobby for a raise for his successor. Grayson County has the lowest-paid county health director in Texas, claimed Teel, a ranking that severely limits the pool of candidates available. Teel produced a bar graph showing that the $78,700 salary for Grayson County’s health director is more than $11,000 lower than Angelina County, a jurisdiction with barely half the population.


"You cannot attract the best if you pay the worst; you just can’t," said Teel. "If (the county commissioners would) just raise it up to average … they could attract some studs and studettes."


Jail Medical Division Director Lynn Killerlain said whatever the next director is paid, she hopes he or she is cut from the same cloth as Teel. A multi-decade veteran of the Department, Killerlain said his administrative focus was a welcome departure from the past.


"For about 30 years, you had physicians that ran the health department. … This is the first time we actually had someone that’s (focused on) environmental public health; that’s not invested in (a specific type of clinic)," explained Killerlain. "If you’re invested in the public as a whole, you’re prepared for public health emergencies like shigella and E. coli.


"(Teel’s) tenure here was focused on public health, and it’s been nice to have a ‘public health’ director. Because that’s what was needed, and I hope they do that again. It’s a hard job; it’s not an easy thing to pull all those programs together and make sure your people are doing what their supposed to do."


Closing his remarks to his staffers, Teel did let slip three I’s. But given the context, the group didn’t seem to mind.


"I was going to write on the dry-erase board ‘Because of you, it was done,’" said Teel to the crowd. "Because I didn’t do any of the 25 things on this list, but I did get to watch you do them. And that was pretty amazing."