, Salem, MA

November 21, 2012

Letter: Salem council showed little leadership on health board change

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

In response to the article “Salem council wants to keep health board as is” (Nov. 16, 2012):

The Board of Health needs to streamline our processes to make it easier for businesses to navigate the system and citizens to receive the advocacy they deserve. A “don’t fix what isn’t broken” attitude is plaguing our city government. If you think it is all working well and that nothing needs to change, then you are not paying attention. This attitude was perpetuated by the City Council when it voted down the request from the Board of Health to reduce in size from seven members to five. To characterize our request as one of convenience to “make a quorum” is shortsighted and irresponsible.

We are a rare board of health that has seven members as a result of a historic merger between the city and a hospital that no longer exists. We need the reduction to five members (most cities have three) to improve efficiency, be more proactive and be more decisive to keep our city healthy. We are a volunteer board that goes unrecognized because what we produce cannot be seen. Every time you eat a restaurant and do NOT get sick, you have our department to thank.

For the last year, we have had excellent leadership under Chairman Dr. Barbara Poremba. With five on the board, we have also been more efficient and effective. We voluntarily lend our expertise to our city department to keep it running smoothly: no politics, no power. I thought we had more authority than, evidently, we do. The City Council expects us to be autonomous, yet we have no control over the number of members or title of our director. If we are just cosmetic, then we should be dissolved and the department can be run within the city like any other. You can’t have it both ways.

The City Council decision showed no respect for our recommendation and has suspicious political motives, which I cannot begin to imagine.

To Councilor Joan Lovely: The “If members are having trouble making the meeting, perhaps they should not be on the board” comment was insulting and elitist. It is unrealistic and impractical to ask citizens to choose the volunteer work over our paying jobs or our family commitments. I would ask all city councilors to examine their own attendance records before judging us.

To councilors Siegel, Sargent and Sosnowski: You want more members so we can “think outside the box” and encourage more democracy. I don’t see how a volunteer board of experts appointed by the mayor contributes to the democratic process. We did demonstrate democracy when we voted to downsize, and you overruled that act. When we started getting creative with regionalization of services, we were suppressed by this same City Council. You can’t have it both ways.

I would like to thank the city councilors who supported us. We need citizens with experience and practical common sense who understand the regulations and the impact on our businesses and the public. If the city councilors know of others who would like to do this, I will be happy to step aside and give someone else a chance to serve.

Larissa Lucas, M.D.