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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  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 , 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 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.

MJ Cullen June 21, 2012 at 12:19 PM
So it's okay to mitigate on behalf of the business and wait until people get sick to resolve the health and safety issues? The Health Dept tried to work with the establisment, but the owner threw her out of the restaurant. As this was ongoing over several months, the Health Dept and BOH had no choice but to be punitive. Also, the business had no license so they were also violating township law. You don't seem to be looking at the facts. Please read through all the information before responding with emotional comments that distort the issue..
Keepboh Autonomous June 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM
EDITED: Regarding the establishment referenced with the Deputy Mayor (March) the outcome was actually very good and shows the benefit of the BOH. They had a hearing because of having 3 Conditionally Satisfactory inspections, each spaced a month apart. Their top management got involved and hired a consultant. The consultant came in, did training, and cleaned up the place. Their management was so impressed that they paid the consultant to clean up their other operations that are outside Springfield, therefore helping the health of people outside Springfield as well too. Clearly that owner saw some benefit which is why he invested the money. The "punishment" the merchant received is that will face closure IF they are Conditionally Satisfactory in the next 12 months. If they remain Satisfactory, there is no closure, which is why it is hard to call it a punishment. No fines were imposed, but they have to pay a fee for each reinspection.
johns June 21, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I reached out to the deputy mayor on this issue. It is my understanding that MJ CULLEN, you seem wrong on the merchant that the deputy mayor testified for and the merchant that threw out the Health Officer. Seems that he testified in an open public meeting, that he knew was recorded. He did not do anything sneaky or covert. He did not ask for any favors to be handed to the merchant. He asked to work together with the merchant before forcing closure or hefty fines. He explained that he knew the owner, through his business and knew that the merchant would comply. That the merchant had an impeccable reputation in the food service industry and has been in the business for many years. He felt comfortable knowing the individual, that he would accomplish the goal of complying, and that if he was not positive or did not know the individual he would not have testified. Seems that he was correct. My understanding is that the Health Official returned in one week, and the merchant had hired a food trainer. According to the deputy mayor, the merchant had exceeded the health departments expectations, and became the gold standard for all businesses in Springfield. He felt that this saved jobs in our town, that perhaps if the merchant was forced to close that jobs would have been lost. He also said he was certified in safe serve and had a good understanding of the violations. That they could be corrected easily. The merchant had fired previous management that did nt do their job.
BART FRAENKEL June 21, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Shane, even though I disagree with just about everything you say about the mayor, at least your posts are respectful and coherant, unlike those of some others. Since you often ask questions, I have one for you. You and others have said the mayor is trying to make Springfield business friendly with his approach. My question is why he wasn't as willing with Dobbs Auto Body, who for many years has been one of a number of tow operators allowed to tow in Springfield. The owner of Dobbs, is a staunch Repbulican, so his displeasure with them certainly can't be politically motivated, even though they have been a responsible, and active business in Springfield and have donated money and services to the township numerous times. So why is the mayor and his TC followers so intent on making things difficult for Dobbs?
Shane Ronan June 22, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Bart, I'm not sure, but I'll ask him. I'm not aware of any issue regarding Dobbs.

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