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Board of Health Chair Fires Back at Mayor's Letter

Samir Shah says Mayor Shehady's assertions about the Board of Health are false.

Springfield Board of Health Chair Dr. Samir Shah doesn’t think the whole story is presented in Ziad Shehady’s latest message from the Mayor.

The message, printed , is largely concerned with proposed changed to the board of health. The Board, presently composed of seven residents appointed by the , meets monthly and steers the Township’s health and safety regulations. Along with the Township Committee, it is one of two governmental bodies in Springfield that can pass ordinances. Under the proposed change to township ordinance, that configuration would be replaced by a board of health made up of the Township Committee members and two residents with expertise in public health.

While Shah took issue Shehady’s individual points, he said its premise was essentially flawed.

“His letter focuses on reducing cost,” Shah said. “It doesn’t focus on increased risk to residents.”

In his letter, Shehady says there was a lack of communication between the Board of Health and the Township Committee. Shah said that the Board members had reached out repeatedly to the Committee through letters and other communications and attributed the miscommunication to indifference from elected officials. 

“In 2010 and 2011, Jerry Fernandez was the town liaison to the Board of Health,” Shah said. “He only showed up to five meeting each year. He made it clear in 2011 he didn’t have time and wasn’t interested in contributing to Board of Health. His absence contributed to lack of communication.”

Shehady said that he made several overtures to the board members but received no response; he said that he attempted to reach the board and Health Department in March and April both via phone and email. Fernandez said that professional obligations prevented him from attending meetings in 2011 and that both he and members of the board of health asked that he be replaced as liasion. But he said that he teleconferenced into the meetings and that he was in constant contact with the board of health during emergencies like Tropical Storm Irene.

Shah also objected to Shehady’s characterization of the board as anti-business. In his message, Shehady accused the board of scaring vendors away from Springfield’s Farmers Market and forcing business to attend hearings instead of having full-time Health Department staff work with businesses. Shah said Shehady misrepresents the board and the health office’s approach to business violations.

“The staff work extensively with them,” Shah said, explaining that businesses are only brought in front of the board after falling short of requirements in three inspections in a year. “When we bring them to board hearings, we tell them to get their act together.”

He said that the board’s top priority is to make sure the public doesn’t get sick because of something preventable, which the majority of issues before the board are. 

“All of us want more investment and restaurants in downtown Springfield, but we don’t that to be a place where people get sick,” Shah said.

Shah also dismissed the accusation that the board was fear-mongering about animal scares. In the letter, Shehady says the board members are “using stories of coyotes to scare the public” despite that the health department only has legal jurisdiction over animal attacks when the animals are suspected of having rabies.

Shah emphasized that the July 2011 report of a coyote attack was both real and serious, with the victim requiring serious medical attention.  In addition, Shah noted that Deputy State Public Health Veterinarian Colin Campbell said that according to state law, when a coyote attacks a person or pet, it is considered a suspect rabid animal. In his Mayor's Message and in a subsequent interview, Shehady emphasized that wild animals are the responsibility of the the state Department of Wildlife and police.

In the letter, Shehady dismisses the need for an autonomous board. Shah said that autonomy was critical for a health board’s mission of pubic health.

“We’re only looking out for the health and safety of residents,” Shah said. “We’re not looking for reelection or for campaign donations from businesses or individuals.” 

He added: “In politics, you only need to please 51 percent of the people. In public health, if you only keep healthy from preventable causes that’s not good enough. Even 80 percent isn’t good enough.”

Shehady questioned the notion that the board members are above politics.

"All of the members of the board are appointed by the parties in power," Shehady said. "They are not above politics. They are political appointees."

Chrys June 12, 2012 at 11:04 AM
Please keep the board autonomous.
BART FRAENKEL June 12, 2012 at 11:31 AM
"That't not on the agenda tonight" for discussion. What a wonderful response from the mayor to a question by a resident during the OPEN discussion session of the TC meeting. Let's not forget that this entire situation was the result of the mayor not liking the board of healths concern about animal control and openly questioning the process; which is what they are suppose to do when they see a public health issue. The public has finally seen the mayor's manipulative side as well as his penchant for retribution toward anyone who disagrees with him. I would have liked this article to have included correspondence between the mayor and members of the board of health, since they are proof positive of what Mr Shah is stating. I know The Patch has access to them and it would have been extremely informative for the public.
Keepboh Autonomous June 12, 2012 at 12:20 PM
The Mayor's message is no surprise. He accuses people left and right while distorting the facts. Just like at the TC meeting on 5/22 (see video below) They may win this political power play, but they will never win another election. The residents of Springfield are smarter than this. Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj8pPMBI9Qk&feature=g-upl Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCgngP3cqwU&feature=g-upl Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJqcJa8bPNQ&feature=g-upl Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qhscBcuCEU Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6MEmP58-4E Part 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxkJbP9OU1k Part 7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRVeSoguS0Y (reposted since links didn't work)
a June 12, 2012 at 01:04 PM
as i said in my comments below the current mayor OFTEN says its not on the agenda tonight when he doesnt want to hear the concerns form concerned springfield residents. if he really cared to hear from people who pay taxes he would listen even if its not on the agenda. he did the same thing with the seniors recreation center. hes a true politician true to party lines and true to form. whatever happened to america being free to state your mind and speak how u feel? per mayor shehady... " not if its not on the agenda"..then u cant speak your mind... he did the same thing when residents wanted to speak about the turf field but it wasnt on the agenda yet along with other issues. i truly think its what got him elected the promise of a turf field. this town is too political in nature and has gotten out of hand. JUST HELP THE PEOPLE OF SPRINGFIELD PLEASE AND GROW UP EVERYONE ON BOTH SIDES OF THE POLITICAL PARTY!
Keepboh Autonomous June 12, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Here is is some additional information to this article. One (of many letters) from the BOH to the TC expressing concern about the new Animal Control contract, with comments from the Administrator at the end http://tinyurl.com/ACProblems1 Here is a letter written to the Township Administrator explaining the safety concerns to the town with the Animal Control company. His response is at the top, and a timeline of incidents at the end: http://tinyurl.com/ACProblems2 Here is a letter from the Chief State Public Health Veterinarian discussing issues with Springfield Animal Control: http://tinyurl.com/ACProblems3 Here are E-mails (as requested by Bart above) sent by Shehady to Dr. Shah in March 2012 asking the Board to no longer be involved in Animal Control, ordering them to follow him, and threatening to dissolve them. http://tinyurl.com/ShehadyEmail Here are attempts by the Board of Health (with certified mail receipt) to meet with the Township Committee members in a public forum to hear their concerns, though no positive response was ever received: http://tinyurl.com/7q29nay and http://tinyurl.com/8ycrhev Here is a link to the press release from the NJ Board of Health Association on the benefits of Autonomous Boards. On the backside is a response from Shehady, followed by a response from the President of the Association. Keep this in mind as you read Shehady's comments where he references this association: http://tinyurl.com/74rjx4h
BART FRAENKEL June 12, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Thank you for posting the correspondence for everyone to see. Hopefully they will remain posted and won't 'mysteriously' disappear. At least the public can read the correspondence and understand that terms such as 'political games' and 'power plays' are used by creditable people to describe the mayors actions.
BART FRAENKEL June 12, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Once again you seem to have a very unique relationship with the truth Anthony. The police were called into a TC meeting because someone attending would not sit down and be quiet and wait until the public portion for comments was called. He was interrupting the meeting and was asked repeatedly to sit down. When he refused, the police were called to restore order and he quickly and quietly sat down. Your references to the board being a group of lunatics is comical. You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about and remain the one constant source of entertainment/embarrassment on this website.
BART FRAENKEL June 12, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Anthony, please say these words out loud. Mayor Shehady appointed Dr. Shah. Then you can start talking about the political appointments, etc. that you ramble on about. But first recognize how ridiculous your statements are you hear yourself say that Shehady appointed Dr. Shah.
Tony June 12, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Hey Missy, you definitely don't know what you're talking about. Everyone on that board got their position because of their political affiliation. Dr. Newburg - the man didn't even stay at meetings. Cheryl - what health experience does she have? Want to know how much the town has to pay to hire a group with these credentials??? We're already paying for a group with these credentials an more! It's called the health departmetn and it costs over $100,000. Before you throw around accusations of "ethics", why not explain how his behavior was "unethical" - those are pretty broad allegations.
BART FRAENKEL June 12, 2012 at 06:37 PM
If someone is reading these posts for the first time, it should not take long for them to understand the limited level of intelligence of Anthony D. What suprises me is that more people haven't voiced their opinion yet but then this is the first day of this article. The removal of the board of health members is a blatant power play by the mayor in order to make sure anyone on the board just follows his orders. He isn't looking for objective people, because that doesn't suit his agenda. He needs followers like Anthony D, and his Republican counterparts on the TC who follow him blindly. The mayor made a critical mistake during his last term with the separate sewer bill and then lost his election. We can only hope this mistake costs his 2 cohorts their bid for re-election, since they are supporting this fiasco
Springfield Resident June 12, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Do the members of the Board of Health get paid anything? Do they have direct control over any tax payer money? Truthfully I will admit I do not have all of the information, but in reading the mayor's article, the above article, and the comments, I am for the proposed changes to the BOH. I believe this will lead to more efficiencies and streamlining in the Springfield government. There are already full-time Health Department employees and the new proposed plan still allows for two residents to be members. One of the biggest benefits I see to the new plan is that the township committee members get voted in as opposed to a full committee made up of 7 appointed individuals. I was unable to locate a website for the Board of Health and only was able to get a basic understanding of what they do through some articles. How many other committees like this does Springfield have? The current BOH appears to be an extra layer of bureaucracy that is unneeded. If we do not trust the Township Committee to make the decisions currently under the BOH control then we have bigger issues. In addition to say that the current members are not influenced by politics is absolutely absurd. I see a lot about what it wrong with the current system regarding communication and more but I do not see a compelling argument for keeping the current system. If someone has one, please comment.
M Quinn June 12, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Just to clarify Bart, it's DR. Shah. The president of the BOH has a PhD. He was appointed by Mayor Shehady and even campaigned for him. So Mr. Mayor if his performance is"lackluster" you have only yourself to blame. Now, since he challenges your behavior for the good of the town and refuses to be your puppet he will be tossed to the curb. Anthony D, as far as the other "lunatics" - they are well respected professionals and valued members of our community with NO political affiliation or agenda. HOW DARE YOU! How much would the town have to pay to hire a group with these credentials? Hopefully, the Mayor will be successful in his Facebook search for more qualified experts to be a seat filler in his newly reorganized BOH puppet show. I know I would never put my license on the line to participate in these unethical political games. It's unfortunate there will be a large price tag on this power play by the Mayor- the health and safety of this town.
Springfield Resident June 12, 2012 at 08:33 PM
M Quinn, if you believe there will be a pricetag on the new positions appointed by Mayor Shehady, then how do you supposed Dr. Shah got appointed?
M Quinn June 12, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Springfield Resident, I know this because I am a medical professional. The Mayor called my home on 5/16 and told me he was reorganizing the BOH and he wanted me to join. He said he found my name on Facebook. He did not know what my profession was. It did not matter. He did not even know my first name, but he was ready to put the health and safety of this town in my hands. The mayor is clearly not looking for an expert with knowledge or experience to look after the interests of this town. He is looking for someone to fill the seat. That person will not have a voice or an opinion. The only thing that will change with the new Board of Health is that the mayor/TC will have all the power. I see this as a dangerous scenario given the motives behind the change and the fact that not one member of the TC has any experience in public health. Dr. Shah is over qualified and in a crisis situation such as the recent Ecoli outbreak - I want him and an autonomous BOH behind the wheel. His decisions are based on research and fact - not political power and short term interests. Have you read the press release by John Saccenti? It outlines the benefits of an autonomous BOH.
Princess Valiant June 12, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Thank you Dr. Shah. I do not know who you are but evidently we think in the same line. Automony is imperative, safety of residents and visitors is #1 for any BOH.
Bruno June 13, 2012 at 02:15 AM
I attended this evening's township meeting and I have to say, it is sad to see that not more people came tonight to voice their opinions/concerns regarding the possible and imminent demise of our current BOH. Lack of involvement or interest, particularly on issues where the health of the community is at stake, only affords a government the opportunity to do what it wants. Case in point is the Springfield Improvement District (SID), which has been in existence for almost 2 years now with little to any citizen involvement and transparency. But I learned tonight from another resident that the SID has actually collected 300K ! Yet, with all that money, it has decided to hang up 100 banners throughout town marketing the businesses in town. What an improvement ! I wonder why that money isn't being used, or if it was used for something else??? Others should be asking the same questions. Nevertheless I have digressed from the topic at hand. For the folks who did attend tonight, they afforded some great commentary, for which one hopes the township committee actually listened to. Additionally, I find irony in the words of the Mayor's open letter, where he states, "There is no need for another layer of government to do as they please with your tax dollars" Great statement, but obviously misdirected because what the Mayor states should not happen, is in fact what he plans to do by "re-organizing" the BOH & getting rid of our community board members.
BART FRAENKEL June 13, 2012 at 02:28 AM
You're correct Missy, my apologies to Dr. Shah; no slight intended.
BART FRAENKEL June 13, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Bruno, I agree and was one of the people who weren't there, but not due to indifference. Unfortunately the one thing that I learned while serving on the TC is that the majority of people don't get involved until its too late or aren't even aware of what goes on within the township. An issue like this, where the potential for public safety being compromised, should get greater media exposure, since thats the only thing that will deter the mayor from pushing forward his agenda. He doesn't like to see his carefully cultivated image tarnished in the media. So maybe someone can reach out and get greater media exposure of this issue in order to get the mayor's attention.
Monkey Allen June 13, 2012 at 10:10 AM
I agree that this is a serious issue. And I can see why members and residents who are involved would get frustrated with the lack of response. While I believe it is the duty of each resident to keep themselves informed of relevant issues, I'm not sure that "media exposure" is the issue. I don't remember reading too much about the candidates in the media. I remember them making an effort to canvas neighborhoods to spread their message or mail out information and post signs. Why not get out and educate the residents?
Len June 13, 2012 at 01:07 PM
I would like to know how a TC member, who has pidgeons and dead lobsters in his restaurant (as per Gordon Ramsey's TV show), can even be considered to become a member of the BOH? Something's wrong here!

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