, Salem, MA


May 22, 2013

Our view: Leadership in short supply on Salem Board of Health issue


This March, the council voted to ask Driscoll to make appointments so the Board of Health could meet its four-member quorum. Driscoll did just that, sending in the names of current members Barbara Poremba, Gayle Sullivan and Martin Fair (Danielle Ledoux, a pediatric ophthalmologist, was appointed earlier this spring to replace Lucas). All are competent and qualified.

Now, without saying why, the council has decided to sit on those appointments, sending them to committee even as they approve dozens of other names for other panels. Ryan said the council may get around to discussing the issue at the end of the month. Maybe.

For its part, after being rebuffed in their attempt to reduce the size of their panel to five, the remaining Board of Health members have petitioned the council to cut that number to three. That proposal was also shuttled off to committee and has yet to be discussed.

In the meantime, Driscoll has said, through an aide, that she won’t appoint anyone else to the Board of Health until the issue of its size is resolved, which is sure to rankle those already opposed to making a reduction. Technically, the Board of Health is still a seven-member panel and will be until any change is made permanent through a home rule petition to the Legislature.

So what we have now is a stalemate. Communication between all sides has broken down, and the public, which has a direct interest in a competently functioning Board of Health, has heard next to nothing on the topic from the City Council.

As we have said on these pages before, we think a three-member Board of Health is best for the city. Many communities, including Peabody, Danvers and Beverly, use three-member boards to no ill effect.

There is, however, room for reasonable discussion. If councilors oppose that idea, it’s time for them to speak up and say why, and to propose a different solution to the problem. If the debate is really centered around unresolved issues between the council and the mayor, it’s time to clear the air. If there’s any room for compromise, it’s time to hear it now.

Resolving the issue requires one or more of the city’s elected officials to set aside petty politics and make that first move toward an agreement that benefits the city. It’s why they were elected in the first place.

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