By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The vacant seat on the Fairhaven Board of Health was filled on 7/30 in a split vote during a joint meeting of the BOH and the Selectboard.
Among the five candidates, both BOH members picked Geoffrey Haworth, a home improvement and landscaping business owner, former Selectboard member and former Board of Public Works member currently serving on the Planning Board and Conservation Commission.
Retired police officer Sheila Dolan, Acushnet Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher, former Board of Health member and mental health specialist Dr. Barbara Acksen, and former Selectboard member and chiropractor Dr. Brian Bowcock also interviewed for the seat.
Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas refrained from asking the candidates questions and later yielded his vote to support whomever the BOH members picked.
BOH Chairperson Peter DeTerra asked all the candidates about the expertise they would bring to the board, and Mr. Haworth said he has served on a variety of town boards, adding, “But I’m also with the Red Cross … and I hold the title of captain for Barnstable County. I’m also the supervisor for Bristol and Plymouth County … [with] probably about 35 certifications. But what I really bring to the board is the fact that I have the pandemic flu management course through FEMA.”
Mr. Haworth said he is a COVID-19 safe work practice trainer, received COVID-19 shelter management training, and is a COVID-19 health screener for the Red Cross.
“I’ve taken all of the courses that are available right now to deal with the current pandemic,” he said.
BOH member Michael Ristuccia asked Mr. Haworth why he took the COVID-related courses.
“I wanted to make sure that I had a complete understanding of the pandemic in the ways that the Red Cross and the community … would be handling the pandemic, so I made sure that I took every single course that the Red Cross had available on training on COVID and made myself become certified as a trainer.”
As he did for all the candidates, Selectboard member Bob Espindola asked Mr. Haworth why he was interested in the BOH now instead of during the April annual election. Mr. Haworth said he had expressed interest in running but decided to wait when he learned that there were already two candidates running.
Mr. Espindola asked about the value in communication and collaboration between different town boards, committees, and departments.
“I think the more that these boards and committees work together the better it is for our town residents,” said Mr. Haworth.
Selectboard member Keith Silvia’s question for the candidates was on their familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order on parliamentary procedure, saying, “It seems like we’re having problems with that…”
Mr. Haworth said he had committed it to memory.
Other candidates answered the same questions and occasionally some additional ones pertaining to them personally.
Ms. Dolan said she would bring her experience from serving on the Planning Board and Conservation Commission and her long career as a police officer.
“I’m used to helping people and being there when needed and I was familiar with the septics and everything from conservation, but I’m sure the codes have changed by now,” said Ms. Dolan, adding she would need to take classes, but education is important for boards and the public.
Mr. Gallagher said he was interested in the appointment because of COVID-19, which did not become a national issue until after nomination papers were due in February. He said that after 34 years with the Acushnet Fire Department he is familiar with day-to-day regional public safety communication, and cited several regional efforts.
Having joined the Finance Committee this winter, he agreed that collaboration among town boards is essential, especially during the pandemic as boards are forced to conduct business remotely.
“I’ve been a municipal employee for 34 years in the same community. I’ve seen boards change hands more times than I can count. I’ve seen boards hold grudges for way too long. I’ve seen boards be cooperative to the extent of really good things happening — and it can happen,” said Mr. Gallagher. “And it’s based on … three core principles … and that is respect, communication, and consistency. And if you can nail all three of those then you’re in a pretty good place for advancing the public interest.”
Mr. Gallagher said he leaned heavily on his current studies with its interactions and networking and it has been “immediately beneficial.”
“Morals and Ethics was an amazing class,” said Mr. Gallagher. “That just reminds you, even when you’re 58 years old and have been in the same job for 34 years that a moral compass is probably the most important thing any human being can have and that dictates every aspect of your life, both public and private.”
Mr. Espindola also mentioned Mr. Gallagher’s experience from his role in the opioid crisis.
Both agreed that the opioid criss is still a concern, with Mr. Gallagher noting that there was a spike in overdoses in April and May.
“The pressures of living in the world of COVID for those who are afflicted with addiction can be too much at times,” said Mr. Gallagher. “They cannot be forgotten. We have to be able to maintain our focus on a bunch of different issues.”
Mr. Gallagher would end up as Mr. Espindola’s pick for the appointment later in the meeting.
Dr. Acksen said that her 50 years of background in health, health research, and teaching as a professor would benefit the BOH, including her experience developing policies and procedures.
“I’m also very aware of the upcoming crisis that we are actually going to have in mental health that’s been predicted…” said Dr. Acksen. “I also am very active at being a chair of the Greater New Bedford Alliance, which is your community health network association that deals with 738 members who are all different organizations, all the boards of health throughout the nine-town area … and I am working with people on this coalition in daily COVID phone calls where groups are coming together to share the kind of information that people need.”
She said her ability to educate would also benefit the BOH, saying, “We need to be keeping the public educated on what’s going on because people don’t know, and we need to do it in a way that invites compliance, that people’s concerns are acknowledged, and also that our message is clear and make it kind of cool in some ways for kids, maybe, to participate and wear masks and do social distancing, things that probably are not that attractive to people.”
Dr. Acksen said she has run for a seat on the BOH many times and is interested in being on the board now because “this is what I do for my life. This is very important to me.”
Dr. Bowcock cited his experience on building committees, four terms on the Selectboard, 13 years on the Finance Committee, time as tree warden, town moderator, and knowledge of town government as beneficial to the BOH.
“My whole career as a professional I’ve been in the health field and I think it would be very welcome on the Board of Health to have a health care provider,” said Dr. Bowcock.
Mr. Ristuccia asked him what had motivated him to apply.
Dr. Bowcock replied, “The motivation is the fact that there is an opening and certainly the town needs to have a Board of Health that is active, knowledgeable, and can deal with many of the complex issues that we have.”
He said he did not run during the Annual Election because Mr. Ristuccia ran for the seat and Michael Silvia is a close friend.
“And I didn’t want to have a conflict where our friendship and our professional dealings on the Board of Health would be an issue so I decided that I wouldn’t run,” said Dr. Bowcock.
Dr. Bowcock said he is familiar with Robert’s Rule of Order and is also a 25-year member of the National Association of Parliamentarians, “Which, um, probably qualifies me to be called a geek, but I actually have studied, been tested on Robert’s Rules, I moderate meetings … when [professional organizations] need a referee and I’ve professionally served as the moderator because of my extensive knowledge of Robert’s Rules.”
At the conclusion, Mr. Espindola encouraged the candidates to run for the seat in April. Selectboard member Keith Silvia mentioned an email he received from the health agent in favor of appointing “someone with a medical background” that “would be instrumental in the placement.”
“Most of the time … there’s one person that stands way, way out above the rest,” said Mr. Ristuccia. “…It’ll be a tough decision.”
“This is not a board I serve on,” said Mr. Freitas, “I’m going to listen to who the two board members go with … and think of my vote from there….
“I want to state this publicly: Right now we have some issues with our heath department,” said Mr. Freitas and mentioned a woman who has been unable to get in touch with the health office about COVID-19 since March as an example.
“What we need to happen over there is we need whoever comes on board to understand that people need to be answered…. You have a lot of people who are dying. These are people who are—their lives are in jeopardy…. I think that we need to do a better job of having people get the answers that they need from our town officials … and employees.”
Mr. Freitas continued, “If that’s not what they want to do, if somebody decides that they don’t want to answer questions or … answer the telephone, please, allow somebody else to do the job. I don’t enjoy getting calls, and this is not the first one … or the second one nor the third, nor the fifth, nor the tenth. I have a record of taking these and sending them off to you gentlemen. I want it to stop. So, whoever gets on this position, that is where I am coming from…. I want their questions answered, I don’t care if they all call in one day. A simple ‘I’ll get back to you’ and then go down the list is what’s needed…. It’s not hard….”
Mr. Espindola pushed for anyone making a nomination to state their reason so it could be discussed.
“You can say why you’re voting for someone, and that’s fine,” said Mr. Freitas. “I’ve never stopped anyone from talking.”
“I would like to nominate Geoff Haworth to the position,” stated Mr. Ristuccia.
“I would like to nominate Geoff Haworth,” stated Mr. DeTerra.
Mr. Espindola pointed out that a second had not yet been made, and Mr. Freitas said there hadn’t yet been a motion, preferring a list of nominations first before a motion.
“I would like to nominate Chief Gallagher,” said Mr. Espindola.
Mr. Silvia nominated Dr. Bowcock.
“Gentlemen, I’ll go with … Mr. Haworth if you guys want to work with him under those circumstances,” said Mr. Freitas.
Mr. Espindola referred to Mr. Ristuccia’s prior comment on one candidate standing out above the rest, saying, “I felt very strongly that Mr. Gallagher, his education, his commitment, his leadership, honestly, when you look at his resume, the leadership that he would bring, and I think that’s critically important to have good leadership and communication skills and I just feel like he would be a tremendous benefit to this board right now…. To me, he stood far, far above.”
Mr. DeTerra motioned for Mr. Haworth, Mr. Ristuccia seconded it, and Mr. Freitas voted in favor. Mr. Espindola and Mr. Silvia both opposed.
Haworth’s term will expire on the next annual election scheduled for 4/5/21. He said he would run for re-election. His appointment was to fill the seat vacated by Michael Silvia after he suddenly resigned from the BOH after being passed over as chair.
In another BOH matter, the board held a meeting on 7/28, with two members, and hired Sarah Dupont to serve as interim Health Agent while Mary Freire-Kellogg is on medical leave.
That meeting is the subject of an Open Meeting Law complaint filed by Andrew Jones with the Board of Health, the Town Clerk, and the Mass. Attorney General. Mr. Jones charges that the meeting was not properly noticed, no agenda was posted, and that the board failed to state the emergency that would have allowed for not posting the meeting.
He also notes in his complaint that in the very short, two-minute meeting, the board did not state the need, title and responsibilities of the position.
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