Mount Juliet – The selectboard on Tuesday addressed whether members of the Board of Health are required to be full-time residents of the town.
It was determined that, under the town charter, appointments are made by the town manager and that at least one member must be a professional health practitioner, and there are no requirements for residency. It was also noted that there is no such requirement for any other position appointed by the town manager.
The matter of BOH member residency was brought to the attention of town officials recently after information received by the Athol Daily News from at least one resident indicated BOH member Norma Purple might no longer be a resident of town.
Town Manager Shaun Suhoski previously commented on that possibility, saying, “I am not immediately aware of where Mrs. Purple resides, but, at least at this time, she is still a registered voter in Athol.”
On Tuesday, Suhoski reiterated that sentiment, saying he was unaware of where Purple lives, as did selectboard chair Stephen Raymond. A check of the Athol street list shows a Wallingford Avenue address for Purple.
Regardless of her current residency, Suhoski and board members did not see a conflict or a reason for Purple’s removal from the BOH if she were, in fact, living out of town since there is no residency requirement contained within the town charter. Suhoski added that Purple has served the town in good faith for many years in her position on the BOH and he has received no complaints with regard to her performance.
Suhoski previously noted there is also no state law requiring residency, saying, “While Mass. General Law, Chap. 41, Sec. 1 discusses how certain town officers are ‘elected,’ that provision is not applicable to Athol as there is a method of appointment specified in Section 5-3-9 of the town charter, namely, that the town manager shall have the authority to appoint…’three members of the Board of Health.”
If BOH members were elected, they would be required to be residents of Athol.
With regard to at least one member needing to be a professional health practitioner, it has been noted Purple worked for many years as a nurse, and members Joan Hamlett and Earle Baldwin also have some level of expertise and experience in the area of public health.
In discussing the matter of residency on Tuesday, Selectwoman Susannah Whipps Lee said that, in her opinion, anyone sitting on a policy making board should be required to be a resident of the town for which policy is being set. She added she would like Suhoski to consider that when making appointments to policy making boards.
Selectmen Alan Dodge and Anthony Brighenti readily agreed with Lee, who is also a member of the Charter Review Committee. In her role as a CRC member, Lee said she would at the next CRC meeting be raising the issue of residency being required for members of policy making boards.
Dodge and Lee also questioned if the public is made aware of board vacancies when terms are expiring and re-appointments are to be made. Lee said that, if not, the public should be made aware in some way in the event someone were interested in serving on a particular board.
Selectman Lee Chauvette, also a CRC member, said that, in addition to the matter of residency, the CRC should also consider reverting to having BOH positions being elected rather than appointed. The CRC is currently reviewing that concern following a request by resident Paul Vescovi Jr. to consider the matter.
Asked previously about whether BOH members should be elected or appointed, Suhoski responded to the ADN, in part, “I’ve had the opportunity to serve the public in both elected and appointed capacities over my career. Based upon my experience, I tend to believe that having a common and consistent appointing authority yields candidates that are better suited to individual boards and committees based upon their unique educational, life or work experiences.
“Keep in mind that the Board of Selectmen is elected by the community and can exercise policy direction to the town manager. So, in totality, I believe the current appointed method still provides adequate check-and-balances.
“Folks should be reminded that boards of health are granted broad independent authority under state law to enact regulations protecting the public health and welfare. Having vetted and qualified members on such a board seems prudent, in my opinion.”
Town Counsel Mark Goldstein advised that the charter review process for both a residency requirement and elected vs. appointed was the proper process to follow if changes are desired.