, Salem, MA

March 27, 2013

Letter: Seven-member health board best for Salem

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Most people felt as I did that the City Council gave the issue of the size of the Board of Health a great deal of thought and reflection in November.

Referenced in a letter to the editor on March 25, the Salem Board of Health responsibilities to complaints have vastly expanded since 1912, as evidenced by the increased number of restaurants in Salem, food manufacturing complaints, vaccination programs, responding to tenant complaints, monitoring of tobacco sales, rodent control, mosquito control, monitoring of Dumpster complaints, noise complaints requiring decibel readings, reviewing and approving major commercial and residential development site plans, reviewing reports for radon monitoring during development and asbestos prior to restoration or demolition, etc.

Back in the building boom when many developers were coming in front of the health board with their projects, there was never a complaint that the seven-member board was slowing the approval process down. So it seems unreasonable to think now when building has been slowed that it is the Board of Heath’s fault. If there is slowing of the process, it is a self-inflicted condition, by not appointing new members.

Finding appointees for other boards mentioned below does not appear to be an overwhelming task, so it should not be for the Board of Health either, unless the process is being purposely maneuvered.

A diverse Board of Health makes for a more responsive and effective board. Diversity demonstrates the board’s connection to the community. It broadens the board’s perspective on public health, political, economic or social problems they are working to resolve. It also reflects the real world.

A seven-member board opens more seats for different skill sets, experience and professions; therefore, the board can achieve better governance. Many times, there are one or two members absent from a meeting. A three- or five-member board becomes too insular, missing the perspectives needed for informed and effective decision-making.

Boards of health, unlike any other board, have a legal and fiduciary duty to protect the public health above all else. The seven-member Board of Health has a history of being effective for many, many years, so why change something that is working?

The following is a list of Salem boards and committees with more than five members: Beautification Committee (8), Planning Board (9), Bike Path (7), Recycling Committee (10), Conservation (7), Zoning Board of Appeals (7), School Committee (8), Harbor Plan Implementation Committee (13), No Place for Hate Committee (9).

Perhaps there should be as much ferocity in finding new members as there has been on reducing the number of members.

Paulette Puleo, MSN, RNBS