Did a member of the Board of Health actually propose a “grading system” for local businesses, based on compliance? Where does the County Board of Health come from? What powers does it have?
First, some background: The Lincoln County Board of Health has seven members. It is chaired by Jan Ivers of Libby. Of the seven members, three are “Lincoln County Representatives”, another three represent Libby, Eureka and Troy, and the final member is a County Commissioner (at this time, Josh Letcher).
Wednesday’s meeting was for the purpose of informing the public, rather than deciding/voting on policy. It began at 6 pm, and could be attended via zoom. A full recording of the meeting is available here– it’s about an hour and 15 minutes. I’ll give the short version here, and do my best for accurate quotes (with the right names associated, but as I’m faceblind, mistakes do sometimes slip through).
The meeting had 7 presenters, and began with an explanation by Board Chair Jan Ivers, about viruses and pandemics. Talking about pandemics, Ivers predicted another pandemic and listed some reasons.
There will probably, as soon as we get this one under management, there will probably be another pandemic in the future. And there are a couple reasons for this: Population growth. We have a lot more people, a lot more crowding. We’ve gone from agriculture/rural into higher density populations. There’s some deforestation due to needing more agricultural land. Modern travel. I mean we can go almost anywhere to home in 24 hours which means that organisms don’t have that far, or that long to go. Increased Trade due to imported foods, exotic pets. And Change in the weather patterns that makes a difference in when these viruses go into humans. Here we don’t have this problem as much, but lack of access to public health is a big issue as far as [coughing] virus”Jan Ivers
The first presentation was by County Commissioner (District 1) Mark Peck on the topic of Organizational Structure. Peck remarked that “There’s a lot of confusion over who has what authorities”. Peck explained:
“Essentially, Montana Code Annotated 50-2-106 covers how health boards are formed. There’s a few different kinds of health boards… We chose a number of years ago to go with the city county health board model because it allows the three cities as well as the county to have joint representation and have representation for themselves on the board.
So essentially what that means is that at minimum you have to have a county commissioner. The city of Libby has one position that they can pick at large. The city of Troy has one they can pick at large. And The city of Eureka has one they can pick at large. And then we decided within the bylaws of the board, and this was a concurrence from the commissioners and the three city councils and mayors that the commissioners would have an additional three positions. So you’ve got four positions that are selected from the county commissioners and then one from each of the cities and that’s where the seven positions come from.”Mark Peck
With three Board Members coming out of the cities, it makes sense to consider what percentage of the county population the cities are.
|City||Population||Percentage of County|
Basically, the three incorporated communities, with 23% of the county’s population are guaranteed 43% of the board membership.
Peck continued, discussing the County Health Board and the appointed Health Officer:
Know a lot of people think well the county commissioners, we can just do away with this board. Well, actually we can’t. We have to have concurrence of the three cities to do that. Very similar to, well, the cities can’t blow it up on their own either and that’s a check and balance to make sure we’ve got consistency.
So anyway the authority of the cities and commissioners in Title 50 is strictly to appoint the Health Board. The Health Board has its own set of authorities and regulations that the cities and county don’t have, because per law that’s been delegated down to the Health Board. And those responsibilities you’ll find them in Montana Code Annotated 50-2-116 and one of the first authorities and requirements of the health board is to appoint a health officer.
The health board has appointed Dr. Black as the county health officer. The county health officer, those authorities fall under 50-2-118 so it’s a different, although they’re very similar authorities, the health officer has unique authorities that the health board does not…Mark Peck
Peck went on to answer several questions he had been asked by his constituents. Can the health board be reorganized or disbanded?
…Yes, in theory the health board can be reorganized but it’s not a matter of just the county commissioners doing it. We would have to have all three cities as well as the county commissioners agree to disband the board….Mark Peck
Why isn’t the sheriff enforcing the mandates?
We still are in a state and a country of laws, and the sheriff can only enforce laws that he’s been given authority through Montana Code Annotated… the Sheriff does not have authority under title 50 to go arrest somebody or to enforce the Governor’s mandate. They can assist if there’s some type of an issue. But that’s why you’re seeing law enforcement agencies not running around enforcing this…”Mark Peck
Is the health officer completely autonomous?
No, he isn’t. The health board could replace the health officer…”Mark Peck
After Mark Peck finished, Kathi Hooper, Directer of the County Health Department began the second presentation of the evening. The topic was finances.
The finances of the Board of Health are really pretty simple. They have a small budget that’s approved annually by the commissioners. In the previous fiscal year which is July of 2019 through June of 2020 the Board of Health expenditures $15,790. And of that total 95% was professional services, including approximately $9,400 for legal services and $6,300 for local health officer. So far this fiscal year which started July 1st the Board of Health expenditures totaled $3,198.”Kathi Hooper
If a business spent 57% of it’s budget on legal services, well, that might suggest some problems.
Skipping ahead a bit in my summary, towards the end of the meeting Health Board Member Jim Seifert (Representative of the City of Troy) spoke for the five or so minutes of the video below. Seifert outlined a proposal that did indeed involve giving businesses grades.
I want to bring up a proposal. What I want to do is I want to do exactly what the health department already does. The health department right now regulates restaurants and food establishments. I want to regulate public spaces for the same thing for our response to covid. And what that is, is we have three things that we can do that are positive. We can do masking, social distancing and hand washing. Well, it’s hard to monitoring hand washing because you can’t be there all the time, but the masks and the social distancings[sic] we can. And what I want to do is go to public places, excluding churches and excluding schools because they’re mandating their own, and set up a A/B/C/D rating for these establishments.”Jim Seifert
Seifert stated that he would give an A+ rating to a business that makes everyone that comes in put on a mask, a business where all the employees wear masks (but they don’t greet people at the door and inform them to put on a mask) a B, with the grade lowering for incorrectly mask wearing. C rating would be for businesses in which only some employees where masks, and D rating for those businesses that do not where them.
Who would enforce Seifert’s proposal? He was quick to say not the government, and not the police. Rather, Seifert states that he expects the citizens of Lincoln County to do the enforcement. He imagines businesses being rated on social media, and in the newspaper, signs placed on their doors, and these signs helping citizens to decide where to shop.
Now, Seifert is the board member that represents the city of Troy. The 2010 population of Troy was 938, or 4.7% of the county’s population. He certainly has ideas for the whole county though!
Seifert went on to talk about vaccines, stating that the idea that vaccines would be mandated (people would be forced to get them), is a propaganda conspiracy-theory.
“We don’t do that in the United States that I know of. And what I call that, is I call that gas-lighting.”Jim Seifert
The meeting closed with the reminder that the next Board of Health meeting is the 13th of January (the second Wednesday of the month), and the thought that Seifert’s proposal will probably be on the agenda. Written Comments or questions to the board should be addressed to Kathi Hooper. While written comments are accepted at any time, they must be received a week in advance of the meeting to be addressed at that meeting. For a comment to be addressed at the next meeting, it should be sent in no later than January 6th.
Meeting Summary to continue in next week’s Mountain Ear. If you can’t wait- feel free to watch the whole thing (and write the rest of the summary- get in touch, we’ll post it!)