Kelli Wells, director of the Duval County Health Department since 2013 and a deputy director of the state Department of Health since 2017, was demoted this week after a state Inspector General’s Office investigation concluded she violated ethics laws in advocating for the hiring of her cousin.
Our Florida Times-Union news partner reports Wells created a position, “influenced the hiring process” and used subordinates to help provide “preferential treatment” for her cousin, Andrea Sharpe, according to an inspector general’s report.
Wells also pushed for Sharpe to get a 61 percent salary increase before she even started work and provided “misleading and evasive responses” during an internal investigation.
“There is no ambiguity in the state ethics law or DOH [Department of Health] ethics policy regarding the hiring of one’s relatives by public officials,” according to the report.
A state Health Department spokeswoman confirmed Wells’ departure from the Duval office, where her annual salary was $145,000, and the appointment of an interim director, Erin Hess.
“Yes, there has been a staff change,” said Devin Galetta, interim communications director.