In response to the Springfield Township Committee's proposal to absorb the functions of the Board of Health, New Jersey Local Boards of Health Association President John Saccenti issued a press release expressing the need for Health Boards to remain independent.
The statement identifies "distinct advantages" for autonomous boards, including the potential for having members with health expertise and their ability to dedicate significant time to municipal health matters.
"It does not make sense, nor is it good government, for the locally elected governing body, as well-intentioned as they may be, to take over the roles of these community boards," Saccenti writes in the statement.
In his , Springfield Mayor Ziad Shehady questioned the benefits of an autonomous board. He argued that having the township committee responsible for the health department provides much needed consistency and oversight of public health matters while reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
"Some argue that 'autonomy' is in the best interest of the public," Shehady wrote. "However, 'autonomy' allows some entities to go in a different direction from the policies of the elected members of the Township Committee without being held accountable."
The NJLBHA is a grassroots organization made up of members of municipal health boards. In addition to advocating for local public health concerns at a state and national level, the association provides information and training for local boards. Saccenti took part in last month’s meeting with Springfield officials and the township Board of Health.
Saccenti's full statement is below.
John Saccenti, President of the New Jersey Local Boards of Health Association, recently presented aprogram on the advantages of autonomous Boards of Health in New Jersey. The following are highlights of that presentation.
By statute, each municipality in the State shall have a Board of Health. In some communities, the governing body appoints itself as the Board of Health. However, in New Jersey, most Boards of Health are autonomous, appointed by and reporting to the municipal governing body, while holding their own meetings and making decisions and recommendations based on their deliberations and findings. The Board’s responsibility includes establishing and overseeing a Health Department, hiring Health Officers, disseminating education and information to the community and protecting the health, safety and well-being of the residents of that community.
There are distinct advantages to an autonomous Board.
The governing body may appoint Board members who bring particular expertise or special training, such as health care or public health professionals. Board of Health members devote significant time and attention to the business of the Board in meetings that take five to six hours a month. In order to best serve their community, they also attend training sessions, conferences and workshops that keep them current on public health issues and emerging challenges, best practices, and how to effectively fulfill their roles and responsibilities.
Such demands on time, added to the responsibility of governance, would place an unnecessary burden onmembers of the governing body. The health and safety of the community should be beyond any considerations of partisan politics.Maintaining the independence of a Board of Health helps ensure that public safety will be the primaryconcern in decisions made by that Board. The autonomous Board also serves as an advocate for that safety and health in the myriad competing requests for funding within the municipality. Our governments in New Jersey are designed for maximum community input.
One of the cornerstones of this community involvement is the establishment of various boards and commissions, such as those that oversee zoning, planning, and recreation, as well as the Board of Health. It does not make sense, nor is it good government, for the locally elected governing body, as well-intentioned as they may be, to take over the roles of these community boards.
Editor's note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel obligated to mention that, during a phone interview, Saccenti said his son is a Patch editor. I have never met his son or have had any contact with Saccenti before the call.