Monday, March 01, 2021

Council holds off on health board appointment

Editor | February 19, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby City Council held off on making an appointment to the county health board Feb. 16, with members saying they wanted to see a larger slate of candidates for the position.

The city’s former representative to the county panel, Laura Crismore, resigned from the post last month. Crismore cited what she saw as a push to add more non-medical professionals to the panel as one reason for her departure. She also said that her workload at Cabinet Peaks Medical Center during the pandemic had increased, curtailing her ability to serve as a volunteer.

After announcing the resignation, Libby City Council opened the position up for applications, asking would-be candidates to submit a resume and letter of interest by Feb. 5. Four residents applied, with one dropping out shortly before this week’s city council meeting. Attorney Ann German, Tracy McNew of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease and former City Councilor DC Orr comprised the remaining candidates.

But City Councilor Rob Dufficy made a motion to table the appointment nearly immediately after it came up on the agenda.

“I don’t think three [applicants] is sufficient; I think we can get more,” he said. “There’s just a lot of public interest in this.”

City Councilor Gary Beach echoed Dufficy’s sentiment, arguing that his colleagues needed to take care in selecting Crismore’s successor to the health board. He said that he had received a slew of emails and phone calls regarding the appointment in recent days.

“This is a very delicate and important topic for the City of Libby and I think we need to select the correct candidate for this position,” Beach said. “It would behoove us to listen to our citizens and open this up for a few more weeks and see if we can attract a better candidate for our city.”

Mayor Brent Teske also said that he received “a lot of emails” about the appointment.

The health board, which in normal times flies under the radar, has taken center stage during the pandemic. Meetings, once sleepy affairs, have drawn large numbers of attendees as members debated how best to handle the coronavirus crisis.

It also has undergone a significant change in membership in the past year. Jim Seifert replaced Maggie Anderson as the Troy representative. County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) stepped aside for fellow Commissioner Josh Letcher. Former at-large member George Jamison resigned to make way for resident Scott Bernhard.

Part of the change owes to concessions commissioners made to north Lincoln County residents upset with the lack of representation on the board. It also reflects the divide over how serious a threat the virus poses to the community and what — if any — action should be taken at the county level.

The Feb. 16 Libby City Council meeting was, accordingly, better attended than usual. But aside from Orr, no one offered public comment. For his part, Orr, who campaigned hard for the position on social media in the lead up to the meeting, said he thought the best candidate for the job was already in council chambers. To which German, in a moment of levity, offered him thanks for the compliment as he sat back down.

Orr and McNew both asked city councilors to keep their applications under consideration going forward. German said she was still debating whether she wanted to pursue the position.

During discussion, City Councilor Kristin Smith asked health board Chair Jan Ivers, who was in attendance, if the panel had any additional requirements for membership. Ivers said the bylaws called for members to have a combination of secondary education and work experience in a relevant field — think preventative or environmental health — equivalent to about a decade.

“I would like to thank everybody who did submit their resume,” said Smith, who seconded the motion to table the appointment. “We appreciate, and realize, you put work into it. Echoing councilmen Beach and Dufficy, it is an important appointment.”

Reopening the call for candidates would move an appointment decision to March 15, which would likely see the county health board meet at least once more without a Libby representative. The vote to table the appointment was unanimous.