Councilman Michael Jackson raised questions about the structure of the city’s health department on Tuesday evening stating the city may not be in compliance with state regulations.
“We’re currently operating illegally. Every municipality must have an operating board of health,” claimed Jackson. In absence of a board of health, the city council fills that role. “This council must serve as the operating board of health,” he said. The city council has not been fulfilling its duties as the de facto Board of Health, he said.
Jackson said the council is required to have at least one annual meeting to discharge its duties as the operating Board of Health.
Law director Domenick Stampone responded to Jackson stating the city is not operating illegally due to a lack of a Board of Health because the council fills that role. He cited an exception in the law for Faulkner Act municipalities like Paterson that allows the council to discharge the duties that’s under the purview of a local health board.
“I don’t want folks to think there is a process occurring at the division of health that is not proper,” said Stampone. He said he was unsure whether the council is required to hold an annual meeting to discuss health issues impacting the city.
Citing state law, Jackson said those who are responsible for ensuring the health well-being of the city are directly answerable to the City Council. In other words, the city’s health officer, directly answers to the City Council acting as the Board of Health.
“The local health department and its employees are under the supervision of the board of health,” reads a report by the New Jersey Department of Health from 2007. Citing this, Jackson is asserting supervising the public health activities of the local health department falls under the direct supervision of the council. Stampone argued this is the case in municipalities not covered by the Faulkner Act. He said in Faulkner Act cities like Paterson the health director is in charge of the health department.
Paul Roman, a former president of the New Jersey Local Boards of Health Association and a member of its board of directors, who serves as the spokesman for the association, said it’s the responsibility of the council acting as the board of health to direct and supervise the health department.
Roman noted some cities have appointed health directors to fulfill administrative functions; however, these directors are not always licensed to perform duties a health officer must carry out at the direction of the Board of Health. He said the council as board of health has to meet periodically to ensure reports from the health departments are being properly submitted to the state and communicable diseases are being monitored.
“They must periodically meet as the board of health,” said Roman. He said the council acting as the Board of Health provides guidance and directs the health officer. He said an appointed administrator cannot limit the functions of the health officer.
The unstated premise of the argument is that the health director has been overstepping her authority. “One of my colleagues was kicked out of the building,” said Jackson, referring to the ejection of councilman Alex Mendez from the health division. He said health director Donna Nelson-Ivy “kicked” Mendez out of the building. “She’s not a licensed health officer of this city. All of this raises grave amount of concern,” said Jackson.
Mendez did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Nelson-Ivy, who is a remnant of the much-loathed former mayor Jeffery Jones’ administration, has been under criticism for leasing a large portion of the second floor of the health department to a nonprofit group.
Employees of the health department were opposed to the move.
Business administrator Nellie Pou said the city had a Board of Health prior to 1974. She said once the new form of government was implemented the board’s function was handed over to the council.
“We have been maintaining the same level of service,” she told the council. She said the administration will review the statutes cited by Jackson to ensure it is in compliance with state regulations.