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Former Fort Worth council member Dr. Brian Byrd to serve as Tarrant public health director

Dr. William Brian Byrd speaks with residents at the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting on June 4, 2024, after county officials announced his appointment as public health director.
Alberto Silva Fernandez
/
Fort Worth Report
Dr. William Brian Byrd speaks with residents at the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting on June 4, 2024, after county officials announced his appointment as public health director.

Nearly four months after Veerinder “Vinny” Taneja’s sudden resignation, Tarrant County Public Health has a new director.

On June 4, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to appoint Dr. William Brian Byrd, 53, to the role. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Manny Ramirez was not in attendance but expressed support for Byrd in a statement.

Byrd is a practicing physician who founded Texas Family Medicine, which was acquired by Palm Primary Care in June 2023. He currently serves as medical director for Palm Primary Care and will continue to see patients part time on Friday mornings.

As public health director, Byrd will oversee the department’s scope of services, which include family health programs, immunization, and disease control and prevention. The county set his annual salary at $250,000.

“I would note that Dr. Byrd is a competent physician with a reputable professional standing,” Precinct 1 County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said at the June 4 meeting. “I am thrilled that he sees leadership of our public health authority to be his next adventure in life, and a mission to which he will dedicate his time, talent and service.”

Byrd expressed his gratitude to the commissioners court and shared his goals for the public health department.

“It feels good to get back into public service after a few years hiatus,” Byrd said. “We, as a department, will continue to be a listening organization that listens to all stakeholders, listens to leaders in the health departments, and leaders in Tarrant County. We will work very diligently to carry out the mission of the organization.”

Byrd previously served as a Fort Worth City Council member, representing parts of west and southwest Fort Worth from 2017 to 2021. He left council that year following an unsuccessful mayoral campaign. In early 2022, Byrd became one of four conservative columnists hired by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to contribute monthly columns on local issues.

Over the past two years, Byrd has written about everything from the war in Ukraine and millennial marriage rates to property tax increases in Fort Worth and the state’s fight against fentanyl overdoses. His most recent column, on banning smartphones in schools, published June 1.

In a May 2022 column, Byrd urged former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price to support now-County Judge Tim O’Hare following Price’s loss to O’Hare in the Republican primary.

“Tarrant is the most populous county in the country that is still red, and I’d like it to stay that way,” Byrd wrote.

When U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, announced her retirement last year, Byrd told the Report he “was taking a look” at running for the seat. Byrd ultimately did not enter the Republican primary.

The appointment comes after Taneja stepped down as director of the public health department at the beginning of February, a role he had served in since September 2014.

On Feb. 2, County Administrator Chandler Merritt sent Taneja a termination notice laying out three issues that, he wrote, “created an irreparable level of distrust in your ability to satisfactorily perform the duties of your position.”

Merritt’s allegations against Taneja pertained to HIV tracing policy revisions, COVID-19 testing contracts, and staff complaints in an internal human resources report. He cited six violations of the civil service rules and placed Taneja on administrative leave pending a final decision.

Taneja addressed the allegations in a Feb. 3 letter and questioned why Merritt jumped to possible termination when Taneja had never been subject to discipline before.

If the county was unwilling to let him stay, Taneja asked they reconsider putting a formal termination on his personnel record and instead let him resign after he found another job.

Two days after Taneja sent the letter to Merritt, the Star-Telegram published the HR report referenced in the termination notice. A day later, Taneja submitted a resignation letter, where he said he left the county in good standing.

Vinny Taneja led the public health department through the COVID-19 pandemic. He previously spoke at the Fort Worth Report’s Candid Conversation event, where he described public health officials’ role like this: “Translate science into an easy-to-understand language.”
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
Vinny Taneja led the public health department through the COVID-19 pandemic. He previously spoke at the Fort Worth Report’s Candid Conversation event, where he described public health officials’ role like this: “Translate science into an easy-to-understand language.”

Taneja was temporarily replaced by Deputy County Administrator Tom Stallings, who has more than two decades of experience with federal, state and local health care policy. Stallings served as interim director until a full-time director was named.

Byrd will begin his tenure July 1.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:42 p.m. June 4 to clarify Veerinder “Vinny” Taneja resigned at the beginning of February.

David Moreno is the health reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact him at david.moreno@fortworthreport.org or @davidmreports on X. 

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.