Friday, December 08, 2023

Troy City Council returns Seifert to health board

Daily Inter Lake | August 10, 2021 7:00 AM

Jim Seifert is headed back to the Lincoln County Health Board after Troy City Council voted narrowly to again name him the municipality’s representative to the panel.

Officials tapped Seifert late last year to replace Maggie Anderson on the health board, but removed him in June after city councilors discovered they had failed to follow proper procedures during the appointment. In his short time on the board, which coincided with the peak of the pandemic in Lincoln County, Seifert emerged as a lightning rod, drawing ire from residents for his support of coronavirus prevention measures and vaccines.

Seifert’s competition for the position came from Jeff Barger, a retired contractor and real estate broker who moved to the area in recent years. On Aug. 4, Troy Mayor Dallas Carr interviewed both before city councilors and a small audience of residents from around the county.

“None of us has done this,” Carr said, kicking off question and answer portion. “We’re trying to do it right — that’s all it is. We’re going to vote in a way somebody is going to like and somebody is not.”

Carr drew from a short list of questions that he said he compiled after speaking with an unnamed county commissioner and a member of the health board. City Councilor Chuck Ekstedt objected, saying he and his colleagues should have had input.

“I don’t agree with this,” he said. “There are five of us, we should all make our own question and come up with five separate questions and do it that way. The vote that’s going on here, I don’t agree with it.”

Carr questioned both men on their motivation for running for the seat, their ties to the community, previous experience on public boards and qualifications for the position. Barger went first, fielding questions while Seifert waited for his turn in the mayor’s office.

He said he and his wife moved to the area from California after spending years researching how to live off the grid. While he did not boast deep experience serving on public boards, Barger said he pointed to his lengthy career in construction and real estate.

Barger, who served in the military during the Vietnam War, said he got involved with the local Republican Party soon after arriving in Lincoln County. After last year’s election, he decided he wanted to get involved in politics, he told city councilors.

“I felt like I was cheated and I was hotter than a mackerel,” Barger said.

When the vacant health board seat came up in discussion with local conservative groups, Barger decided to apply. He marketed his experience in construction as potentially useful in future dealings with asbestos as well as other issues before the board unrelated to the pandemic.

On medical issues, he said he was ready and willing to learn as he went. As for the pandemic, Barger said he mistrusted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization while alluding to a debunked theory wherein airplane contrails consisting of harmful chemicals are purposefully dropped from the sky.

He also said he supported Americans making their own decisions.

“I think if the American people are given the facts straight up then you have to trust the American people,” Barger said. “There is an old cliché that was said a while ago: It’s my body so it’s my choice. You’ve heard that right? It’s my body my choice.”

Seifert, who boasts deep roots in south Lincoln County, pointed to his years as a pharmacist, business owner and volunteer in Troy. From Libby originally, Seifert said he fell in love with the neighboring town after serving in Vietnam, getting married and earning a college degree.

As for prior public service experience and community involvement, Seifert recalled serving on the local school board and helping found the food pantry as well as picking up after Troy’s annual Fourth of July bash.

Seifert said he originally agreed to serve as Troy’s representative to the health board after receiving encouragement from former County Commissioner Mark Peck. While acknowledging that public health in Lincoln County involved more than just medical issues, Seifert said he would draw on his professional experience. That experience gave him an edge on analyzing problems, digging up information and drawing conclusions, he said.

“I have the capability of doing that [research], not looking at hearsay or just the news, but really digging in deep and really seeing what the health aspect is,” Seifert said.

Seifert also responded to criticism from residents, specifically those that categorized him as a medical professional first and foremost as opposed to a member of the public.

“If you say I’m just a health care provider and not a part of the public, I guess that’s your call,” Seifert said, pointing to his stint on the school board and time with volunteer organizations.

While not alone in catching flack for his stance on pandemic measures, Seifert earned comparisons to the Nazis after outlining an ultimately unsuccessful plan to grade businesses on compliance. Earlier this year, protesters picketing against the health board specifically called for his ouster along with Chair Jan Ivers.

Several residents in attendance at last week’s Troy City Council meeting again took aim at Seifert as well as pandemic restrictions and measures.

“Right now we have a president and an administration that are trying to force us to take the vaccine and force us to put masks back on,” said resident Mitch Walters. “I think this right here, this discussion, might be the difference between freedoms and no freedom.”

Libby resident and business owner Wheatley Ryan spoke on behalf of Barger and argued that the board needed less influence from the medical community.

“I would like to see a candidate get into office as a representative of the large public part of this whole group,” he said. “Somebody from the public themselves would be a huge asset.”

Seifert enjoyed support from Amy Fantozzi, the City of Libby’s representative to the board of health, who spoke on his behalf.

“It’s the board of health’s job to make sure that we keep the public safe and take the recommendations of the CDC into consideration,” she said. “It’s also our responsibility to take the consideration of the public into account when we make a decision and I feel like the board does that and does a really good job of that.”

Following the interviews, city councilors deadlocked twice in voting for a representative. Ekstedt and City Councilor Crystal Denton voted for Barger while city councilors TJ Boswell and Shawna Kelsey backed Seifert.

Carr, who held the tie-breaking vote, threw his support behind Seifert.