Residents Object to Proposed Board of Health Changes
Residents argue for continuing the board of health as an autonomous body.
While the future of the Health Board won't be decided on until June 26, Springfield residents gathered at the June 12 Township Committee meeting to make made their feelings on the proposed changes known.
Former officials, political candidates, board of health members and residents expressed dismay at the changes under consideration for the board during the meeting’s public comment section. Under the proposed changes, the board, currently composed of seven volunteers appointed by the Township Committee, would be replaced by a board of health made up of Township Committee members and two residents with public health backgrounds.
Former Township Committee member and current Democratic candidate for the committee David Barnett spoke first. A former liaison to the Board of Health, Barnett was troubled at the possibility of political influence on health matters if the Township Committee—an elected body he described as “inherently political”— absorbed the board.
“By changing the board, you potentially create a conflict of interest,” Barnett said. In addition, he worried that the change would erode the public’s trust in the safety of township institutions, saying that lax health enforcement for restaurants “diminishes the public’s faith in businesses in town.”
Barnett’s running mate Margaret Bandrowski characterized the move as stemming from conflict with township Mayor Ziad Shehady.
“They disagree with you and it’s off with their heads,” Bandrowski said.
Bandrowski called the original plan to have the reconfigured board meet only once a year “astonishingly irresponsible.” Referring to Shehady’s explanation that the plan would create efficiencies and streamlined processes, Bandrowski questioned his priorities.
“What price are you putting on the health of residents,” Bandrowski asked.
Bruce Bergen, former attorney both for the Township Committee and the Board of Health, pointed at incidents and reports he said showed Shehady pressuring the board of health to not enforce rules. Officials have denied they have encouraged lax enforcement. In previous comments, Shehady said the board takes too punitive an approach towards code enforcement and that he'd prefer the health department inspectors make on-site recommendations and instructions instead of bringing the businesses before the health board.
April Forys, a registered nurse and a current member of the board of health encouraged members of the public to attend the June 13 Board of Health meeting so they could "see what they may lose."
After Shehady closed the public comments to begin the Committee’s closed executive session, Democratic board members Rich Huber and David Amlen indicated they supported keeping the Board of Health as an autonomous body.
“As the liaison to the Board of Health, I would be very disappointed if the committee voted to disband it,” Amlen said.