The city filled its vacant position on the Joint City-County Board of Health this week and during the December 21 discussion Commissioner Owen Robinson said the county had a vacant position it had not filled since. April.
Robinson said two of the three county commissioners were unaware of the vacancy until he told them recently. Robinson sits on the board of health as the city’s representative, but will step down when his term expires at the end of the month.
Gardner leaves CCHD for DPHHS position
The Electric followed up with the county commissioners and Commissioner Joe Briggs said they did not take the seat for several reasons. Briggs serves as the county representative on the board of health.
The city appoints the board of health; approves park leases; changes to the gun code; accepts the COPS hiring grant
Briggs said recent changes to state laws regarding the authority of local boards of health “have reduced the sensitivity to the time to fill the position and, more importantly, depending on the outcome of discussions between the city and county committees, the composition or even the existence of the Board of Health is in question.
The legislature made several changes impacting local boards of health, including one requiring a designated governing body on the department of health and the board of health. The composition of this governing body has been a point of contention between the city and the county for several months and is part of their ongoing discussions.
City plans temporary deal for joint health service
The city and county have an agreement governing the operation of the Cascade County City-County Health Department which has not been amended since 1975.
This fall, the city and county approved a temporary deal to make the county commission, with a city commissioner as a non-voting member, the appointed governing body.
This agreement is in place until June as the city and county continue to work on a new agreement for the operation of the CCHD.
City, county approach temporary deal on joint health department governing body
The city has indicated a draft filing with the district court asking a judge to determine by law whether the governing body can be the existing board of health or whether it should be an elected body such as the county commission.
Briggs said these discussions could potentially result in the city and county each having their own health departments, and each entity would then have to set its own board membership requirements.
“An appointment made based on the current structure of the BOH may or may not be a good fit for the new structure of a county health department if this happens,” Briggs told The Electric in an e- mail.
City and county continue debate over health department management
The operation can continue as a joint agency, but there could be other changes to the board membership requirements as the 1975 agreement requires a doctor, dentist and the principal of Great Falls public schools. , as well as a city and county commissioner, and one person appointed by the city and one appointed by the county.
Briggs said it could stay the same, but there could be changes to the appointment process. He said the appointment of a city commissioner, a county commissioner and another person appointed by each body “is no longer inherent in the law”.
If the governing body of the local board of health includes a county commissioner, it may not be appropriate to have one on the board of health, he said.
City seeks legal opinion on joint operation of city and county health department
Another possibility is that the combined health service could be expanded to include other incorporated communities in the county, namely Belt, Cascade and Neihart, Briggs said. If that were to happen, they would also get an appointment at the board of health and possibly reduce the number of appointments for the county and city.
City and county discuss how a joint health service works
“Until some fundamental structural decisions are made by city and county boards regarding the city county health department, any appointment to the current board of health would be a conditional appointment which may or may not exist at at the end of the exercise. Given the lack of a clear direction and description of the role that a new person might fill, it doesn’t seem prudent to fill the position until we have some clarity, ”said Briggs.