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Panel backs 3-member BOH

August 04, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — As one of its last formal acts, the Charter Review Committee voted 4-1 Tuesday to recommend changing the Board of Health to an elected, three-person panel.

That came despite a lot of talk in recent months about whether the board should be enlarged, with both Town Councilors, health board members and others advocating for five — and sometimes even more — members.

But Chairman Laurent "Butch" McDonald said he had never "seen that request in writing" from the Council.

"That really puzzles me. It really, really does. They don't have the decency to send it in writing," said Vice-Chair Gary Fontaine, who added that without such a document "I give that [request] no weight. Maybe it's just smoke and mirrors for the people."

To member Ken O'Brien, arguments that a larger health board would help address a larger workload and quorum concerns didn't hold water. He said he looked at the records and found "no evidence of any instance where a meeting was canceled for lack of quorum."

Regarding the workload, he claimed most of Massachusetts' health boards have three members and Southbridge already has a director, recycling coordinator and two other staff people many other towns lack. He pointed to neighboring Sturbridge, adding that its Board of Health has three members despite claiming to be "second to Worcester in the number of restaurants," and it still "finds time to engage its concerns in our landfill."

(Specifically, the Sturbridge board has appealed the Southbridge landfill's new state permit, which took effect in June.)

McDonald voted against the proposal. He said he wants to see that board elected to counter what he argued is "undue influence being exercised" on it, but has previously said he supported a mixed five-person board (three elected, two appointed). He agreed with a speaker's comment at a previous public hearing that candidates could be subject to having campaigns funded by those they'd regulate, but he noted they also have to reveal that funding under state election law. He also alleged appointees can get seats based on their viewpoints on key issues.

See Thursday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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