To the editor:
The ongoing battle between the Salem City Council and the Board of Health regarding the size of the board has made a mockery of public service and makes it clear that public welfare is not at the core of the disagreement. The Salem Board of Health, with a well-reasoned and legal argument (see Massachusetts General Law Ch. 111, Sec. 26) petitioned the City Council to reduce its size to three members. The council sent the petition to committee and has yet to discuss it. One member of the Board of Health has resigned, citing lack of support from the mayor, and the mayor has replaced her and reappointed the other three board members whose terms had expired. But now the City Council declined to confirm the reappointments, wants to discuss the matter behind closed doors and has given no explanation. Then, several cities of the North Shore receive a $325,000 state grant to improve public health and there are councilors quibbling over which city gets to lead the regional program. The time to begin reforming local boards of health is now.
The Salem City Council needs to get in line with state law and other cities of the North Shore and reduce the size of the Board of Health to three members. The law establishing a board of health was enacted in 1912 in response to drastic public health needs. Before that time, people were slaughtering animals in backyards, draining carcasses in bathtubs and drinking raw, unpasteurized milk. Today all these processes and the many more overseen by the board are regulated, involve the latest technologies and are streamlined to promote safety and efficiency. And, yet, the Board of Health has not streamlined for efficiency. It has bloated to an unwieldy seven required members and, as a result, is unable to perform its basic functions.