This editorial from the Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 issue of the Daily Sentinel is reprinted here with permission from the publisher. The original editorial is on the Sentinel’s website here. The added graphics are AnneLandmanBlog’s own embellishments.
Mesa County commissioners would like their constituents to believe they are “by the book” policy makers.
But they’re willing to toss the book out the window if it interferes with their fever to micromanage Mesa County Public Health.
The latest twist in the commissioners’ slow, indelicate and legally questionable takeover of the public health board is that commissioners now control the agenda of what is supposed to be an independent body.
Pretty slick. Commissioners did it with the full cooperation of a new health board it installed after the old one resigned en masse when it became clear commissioners intended to revoke their appointments for not acquiescing to the commissioners’ demand to fire MCPH Executive Director Dr. Jeff Kuhr.
This isn’t how public health authority is supposed to work in Colorado. Commissioners appoint the health board. But after that, the board of health is to operate autonomously, immunized from the influence of the county, which is a far too political body to be trusted to oversee something as important as public health.
Importantly, there is no apparent authority of the county commission to remove members of the board of health once appointed (pdf). The board is to be self-governing. Indeed, it seems that what the county has done is expressly forbidden. The statute says: “Appointments shall be made to the board so that no business or professional group or governmental entity shall constitute a majority of the board.”
But there’s no difference between that and just making the health board a puppet of the county, which is what commissioners have done.
The fact that they’ve needed an intergovernmental agreement to stipulate the terms of their working relationship is proof that the health department is a separate and distinct entity from the county.
At least it was. The new intergovernmental agreement calls for county workers to review matters the public health board plans to consider before it can place them on its own agenda. The health board is now a step removed from independent decision-making. Commissioners are the gatekeepers.
But the new intergovernmental agreement is just an exclamation point — an outcome that was all too predictable when commissioners hand-picked a new public health board that includes Commissioner Janet Rowland.
At the time Rowland had herself appointed to the health board (and before the old board resigned), we observed, “…there’s nothing wrong with a commissioner serving on a local health board. But cynicism begets cynicism and it’s hard to ignore the possibility that Rowland’s appointment is a first step toward stacking the health board to deliver commissioner-approved outcomes.”