Georgia health agency reviewing leadership pick

The Georgia Department of Public Health offered a North Georgia leadership post to a California doctor but is reviewing its choice since the discovery of sermons online in which the man criticizes homosexuals and other groups.

Dr. Eric Walsh, the former Pasadena public health director, was placed on administrative leave May 1 following the recent discovery of online videos of his sermons. He resigned from that job Wednesday.

In the videos, Walsh criticizes homosexuality as a sin and labels evolution a “religion created by Satan.” He also criticizes Catholics and Muslims.

Walsh was interviewed in Georgia this month and was sent a letter offering him the post of public health director for the North Georgia health district, which includes the counties of Cherokee, Pickens, Whitfield, Murray, Fannin and Gilmer, agency spokesman Ryan Deal said.

But that offer of employment was contingent on a background check, Georgia officials say. They are now focusing on Walsh’s sermons.

“The fact is we are looking at areas that require additional exploration,” Deal said. “We are looking at a variety of issues, some reported in the Los Angeles-area media.”

An announcement regarding Walsh’s appointment was made to the North Georgia staff, but Deal said that was premature.

Meanwhile, gay rights groups are blasting the Georgia agency for making the offer.

“Dr. Walsh’s repugnant remarks are incompatible with an effective public health leader,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “It is a disgrace to the public health response in Georgia, a state fighting a growing HIV epidemic in which too many people are already afraid to seek lifesaving care because of fear and stigma.”

Pasadena officials placed Walsh on paid administrative leave to investigate the impact his remarks might have on his ability to lead the city’s public health department.

In a statement Wednesday to Pasadena officials, Walsh apologized to department employees for “any hurt or disruption that these past few weeks have caused.”

Walsh is an associate pastor at the Altadena Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The sermons came to light weeks ago after Walsh was scheduled to speak at the graduation ceremonies for Pasadena City College. Prior to that, screenwriter and gay rights advocate Dustin Lance Black was uninvited from the commemoration. The resulting controversy led Walsh to withdraw, and Black addressed the commencement group this past weekend.

According to his biography on the city of Pasadena website, Walsh has served under the current and previous White House administrations on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. He is also a past-president of the California Academy of Preventive Medicine and has been on committees with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.