A pair of council members are calling for a meeting of the dormant Board of Health over the spread of the new coronavirus.
Michael Jackson, vice president of the City Council, called for the meeting late last week. He was joined by councilman Luis Velez.
“There’s a state of emergency with this virus that’s running rampant. It’s more relevant than any other time,” said Jackson.
City Council members are also members of the Board of Health. However, the council has not acted as the Board of Health in decades. Three years ago, state auditors cited the city for failing to have a functional Board of Health. The state recommended four meetings of the Board of Health every year. Then-council president Ruby Cotton had said she would hold a meeting as the Board of Health, but never did.
The same audit directed the city to change the organizational structure of the health department so that the public health officer reports to the Board of Health rather than the mayor’s appointed director.
Mayor Andre Sayegh had been in favor of implementing the state’s recommendations. His 90-page transition report listed reviving the Board of Health as a priority. He is nearly half-way in his term as mayor. His administration has yet to implement the changes outlined in the transition report.
Several council members were unsatisfied with the emergency meeting held last week by the City Council to discuss the city’s response to the new coronavirus. Jackson has complained none of the four administration officials who addressed the City Council have any public health credentials or experience.
“The City Council doesn’t understand its obligations,” said Jackson. “Dr. Persaud should be answering directly to the Board of Health.”
Paul Persaud serves as the city’s health officer.
Velez said he sent a message to council president Maritza Davila to urge her to call for a Board of Health meeting.
Davila did not respond to a call for comment on Tuesday.
Jackson suggested his colleagues need to take health issues seriously given the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
Three years ago, Michael Richmond, an attorney for the New Jersey Local Boards of Health Association, had said the city, by failing to have a functional Board of Health, was placing public health at risk in an epidemic or pandemic. He reasoned the Board of Health and the New Jersey Department of Health are the two entities that can declare a public health emergency and quarantine people.