, Salem, MA

Local News

March 27, 2013

Council debates Board of Health

Members vote to recommend that mayor appoint four more people, bringing total to seven


“We wanted the council to air this out and vet the Board of Health’s request to try and make their number a little more manageable,” Driscoll said after last night’s council meeting. “If the council is not willing to do that (shrink the board to three), we need to have a functioning Board of Health and we’ll work to do that.

“We were hoping to address it in a way that would bring closure to the issue of size,” she said. “If we appoint seven, it’s hard to say we’ll now consider reducing (the board).”

The Board of Health canceled meetings in January and February because it didn’t have a quorum of four people. The last time the board was at its full complement of seven members was May 2011, Poremba said.

A 1912 state law established local boards of health at three members, Poremba said. Salem’s board was enlarged in the 1970s to manage a city-owned hospital.

The city gave up control of that hospital — the former Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital, now Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care North Shore — decades ago. Now, the Board of Health supports repealing the 1972 amendment to state law that allowed the board to go to seven members.

“There’s no reason for us not to be in compliance with the original 1912 law,” Poremba said.

Such a change would require a vote of the City Council and passage of a home rule petition by the state legislature.

Robert Blenkhorn, a former health agent for the city who is in favor of reducing the board’s size, petitioned the City Council to schedule last night’s discussion of the issue.

A seven-member board is able to break into subcommittees to vet issues and has more people to bounce ideas off, said Christina Harrington, who resigned from the board in 2009.

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