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Board health falters on health board

from TCRE editorial staff

Sometimes government works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The situation on the Health Department of Northwest Michigan Board is an example of the latter.

Its setup — made up of two representatives from each of four counties for an even eight — is problematic from the get-go. There’s no way to break a tie.

This, combined with a reactionary cloud that seems to hang over it, keeps them running in place.

The board is still stuck on a dispute that started in May over whether to apply for a $500,000 Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles Initiatives grant and, after 90 days, are currently “back to Square One” in the grant-decision process.

The first time the board tackled this, it caused a total failure with an inability to approve even their own agenda.

Why is applying for grants so controversial? In the case of the $500,000 school nutrition grant, board vice president Jarris Rubingh of Banks Township questioned its pass-through relationship to Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, as he counts its policies of inclusion and climate focus as negatives.

Then, after seeming to find a path through the grant debacle, the 4-4 tie reared again last week, with neither the Health Officer Dan Thorell’s “new grants go to full board” plan or Rubingh’s amended “ALL grants must go to his subcommittee before being passed onto the full board” breaking through. Is micromanaging the Health Department’s application to the estimated 129 grants it needs, a good use of commissioners’ time? We don’t think so. The board is executive function, not daily management. What about the big-picture issues facing this wide swath of Northwest Michigan? Large healthcare staffing shortfalls, water pollution, mental health?

The board seems to be stuck in a post-COVID-19 loop, where no one trusts anyone, and little gets done. The mood is reminiscent of 2022 when former Health Officer Lisa Peacock resigned because of a “hostile work environment” after working for the department for 12 years. In that environment, as we’ve seen in Washington, D.C., the business of a functional, working government of the people and for the people gets lost in political theater, which only benefits the few.

A board that struggles to approve an agenda is in trouble.

In our experience, candor, transparency, accountability build trust — for those who want government to work.

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