BOT to dissolve Board of Health, absorb its responsibilities

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees members will soon take over as the Board of Health. The trustees voted Feb. 22 to pass an ordinance on first reading that would dissolve the current Board of Health and allow the BOT to absorb its responsibilities.

The BOT voted 5-0 — Trustee Deborah Davis Ford was absent — to pass Ordinance No. 2016-03 on first reading with the Board of Health’s metaphorical blessing.

“During our strategic planning meetings throughout the summer and fall, we kind of looked at efficiencies throughout the village where it appeared we weren’t operating as efficiently as we could be and one example of this was the Board of Health,” Village President Sheena Collum said at the meeting. She explained that although the village only has two full-time health employees — the animal control and the health officers — there were 16 people overseeing them between administrators and Board of Health members.

Trustee Mark Rosner also pointed out that, not only did the BOH sometimes have trouble getting a quorum, but most of its actions were simply mandated by state law anyway.

BOH President Dean Kameros agrees that the change is right for the village.

“The South Orange Board of Health has a long and distinguished record of serving the community by addressing critical public health issues for the town,” Kameros told the News-Record. “During our last meeting, village President Sheena Collum and Trustee Jeff DuBowy articulated their desire to reduce some of our local government inefficiencies by making the village health department accountable solely to the Board of Trustees.

“Currently, a small number of health department employees are responsible to multiple governing bodies,” Kameros continued. “The members of the Board of Health had a productive and collaborative discussion with Sheena and Jeff on the issue during our last meeting in February. Personally, I think the transition of Board of Health administrative responsibilities to the Board of Trustees makes sense for the reasons they articulated.”

At the Feb. 22 meeting, Collum added that the village is looking to incorporate current BOH members into village affairs through volunteering.

“In terms of next steps, the Board of Health will meet one more time as a statutory board in March,” Kameros said. “We will discuss whether we want to continue on as an advisory board on public health to the township, but without any administrative or statutory responsibilities. Should the board decide not to continue on as an advisory board on public health, some current board members expressed the desire to volunteer their services in other areas. Sheena and Jeff mentioned they would be happy to help us identify other volunteer opportunities that suit our respective skills and interests.”

South Orange’s Board of Health will soon operate as Maplewood’s does: as a board composed of the town’s elected officials. And this change could be happening as soon as April.

“Legally, the ordinance will become effective upon publication in accordance with NJ Statutes,” Collum told the News-Record. “The public hearing and possible adoption is currently scheduled for March, so we would envision the BOT assuming those responsibilities on or about April 1.”