SPRINGFIELD — Tuesday the governing body was expected to change the status of the board of health. Again.
“I feel that it’s in the best interest of the residents of Springfield for the Board of Health to be made up of public health professionals,” said Deputy Mayor Rich Huber in a statement published on the Springfield Democrat website.
“This change will ensure that politics don’t get in the way of the public’s well being,” he added.
But that was not the way it went last year.
After a contentious battle that resulted in the township’s autonomous board of health being dissolved, a simple change in political power brought it all full circle once again.
The previous board of health, comprised of appointed residents, was replaced by a committee of all five members of the township’s governing body, in addition to two residents with expertise in public health.
The change, first proposed by former Republican Mayor Ziad Shehady, angered and surprised board of health members and residents alike.
Shehady, who said the change “would provide greater and much needed oversight of public health matters,” as well as streamline costs, went head to head with board members and Westfield Health Officer Megan Avalone to see the board dissolved.
The matter was fiercely debated at meetings, in the press and social media. Shehady devoted considerable space to the issue, even criticizing the previous board of health and board president Samir Shah. The issue came to a boiling point when Shehady, while at a June board meeting, put up a Facebook message accusing the board of “unnecessarily giving Sofia’s Restaurant a hard time.”
Throughout the township residents put up lawn signs calling for residents to let the township know the autonomous board should be retained for the health of the community.
Eventually, though, Shehady got his way.
But the former mayor stood all alone in his convictions when political power shifted to the Democrats on election day. It was even more obvious that the Democrats were in control of things when an ordinance to reinstate the autonomous board of health was introduced and approved by a 4 to 1 vote. Shehady was the only dissenting vote.
On Tuesday, after LocalSource went to press, the Springfield Township Committee was expected to have the final reading and public hearing on the ordinance reinstating the board of health. According to several members of the committee, the issue would not present a problem.