, Salem, MA

November 16, 2012

Salem council wants to keep health board as is

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — The City Council went with the motto “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” last night, voting against measures to decrease the size of the Board of Health and change the department head’s title from health agent to health director.

Both issues were initiated and supported by the Board of Health. Neither would have changed the duties or authorities of the department or board.

Several councilors expressed reluctance to change a setup — a health agent that reports to a seven-member board — that has worked for decades.

“I don’t think it’s broken, so I don’t think it needs to be fixed,” Councilor Jerry Ryan said.

The health board was in favor of reducing its size from seven to five members. In doing so, the required quorum for meetings would be reduced from five to three people.

In a letter to the council, the Board of Health argued that the change would make it easier for the group to gather a quorum, meet and make progress on issues.

The Board of Health currently has two vacancies; the remaining five members must all be present to reach a quorum.

“It’s hard for me to believe that attendance is the reason (to change the board). This is a city where people like to serve,” Councilor Arthur Sargent said. “With more members, there’s more input, more debate, more democracy.”

Council President Joan Lovely agreed, saying if members are having trouble making meetings, perhaps they shouldn’t be on the Board of Health.

“If it’s just to make it easier to make a quorum, I can’t support this,” Lovely said. “... (It’s) the wrong avenue to go in right now.”

Several Board of Health members had discussed the issue in a meeting of the council’s Committee on Public Health, Safety and the Environment last week. The council subcommittee voted to recommend both the change in the health agent’s job title and size of the Board of Health.

The change in job title was suggested to clarify that the health agent is a department head.

Last night, neither measure carried. The council voted 7-3 against reducing the size of the board, with Councilors Joseph O’Keefe, Thomas Furey and Josh Turiel voting in favor.

The council voted 5-5 on the motion to change the health agent to health director. Councilor Paul Prevey was absent from last night’s meeting.

Turiel said he supported reducing the size of the Board of Health because they’re a supervisory body, not involved in day-to-day tasks, such as inspections.

“I don’t see any reason not to support this,” Turiel said.

Councilor Todd Siegel argued that having a larger board brings more sets of eyes, more ideas and “chances to think outside of the box” to each issue.

Other councilors argued the board will need all hands on deck to deal with the issue of medical marijuana, which was legalized in last week’s election.

“The last thing in the world to do is to go to less (members),” Councilor Michael Sosnowski said. “The more people we can get to look at a problem, the more chance we have at a solution.”

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.