Peck backs Seifert, but not proposal

| January 12, 2021 7:00 AM

County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) was among those who reacted strongly against a controversial plan floated last month to grade businesses based on their compliance with pandemic restrictions.

But Jim Seifert, the county health board member who raised it, has every right to speak his mind, Peck said last week. Those who have likened Seifert to a Nazi in recent weeks could not be further from the truth, he said.

“I don’t agree with Jim’s proposal, but I agree with his right to give it,” Peck said.

Peck made his remarks during the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 6 meeting. He reported spending a significant amount of time during the holidays answering emails from concerned residents regarding Seifert’s plan.

Seifert, who represents Troy on the county health board, took to the podium at the tail end of an informational meeting held Dec. 16. Over several minutes, Seifert laid out a plan to assign letter grades to businesses based on their compliance with state and local pandemic directives.

Although vague on the details, Seifert said he would ask health department officials to look into the idea. County employees already inspect commercial kitchens, he said.

He envisioned a system that included resident feedback. Grades could then be shared on social media and in local newspapers, he said.

That would give residents the option to avoid locations where directives like the mask mandate are ignored or flouted, Seifert said.

“We have the ability to post these ratings on the doors of the businesses and to publish them on social media or in newspapers and it will be a guide for the citizen to decide if that business is safe,” Seifert said.

It did not take long for local social media pages to begin roiling. Comparisons to National Socialism cropped up quickly, coupled with calls for the Troy City Council and mayor to remove Seifert from his seat.

Peck rebuked the attacks on Seifert’s character, pointing out the longtime resident’s deep roots in the county.

“I’ve known Jim Seifert my whole life and Jim Seifert is a good man,” Peck said. “He’s a Vietnam vet, he owned a business in Troy and has been a good citizen, but in my opinion he’s wrong here. But that doesn’t make him a Nazi. That makes him wrong in Mark Peck’s opinion.”

County Commissioner Josh Letcher (D-3), who represents his colleagues on the board of health, was in attendance during the meeting, his second as a member. He recalled that Seifert requested a chance to speak at the end of the meeting and delivered his remarks.

Letcher told his fellow commissioners that he had heard of no support of the idea among other members of the board in the weeks since. It did not appear to be on the panel’s Jan. 13 agenda, he said.

“If there was any validity for [Seifert]’s idea, the board of health would have that as a topic [on the agenda],” he said. “It’s my impression that it’s his idea and it’s gone nowhere. I think it’s just been pushed aside.”

Peck and Letcher offered their assessments during the public comment portion of the board’s Jan. 6 meeting. While commissioners do not often engage in back-and-forth with speakers during that portion, Peck asked for — and received — permission from Jerry Bennett, chair of the board of commissioners, to address questions raised by resident Joseph Miller.

“That’s one individual,” Peck said. “As a citizen, as a board member, he has the right to make whatever recommendation he has — just like any other board member does or you do as a citizen, to come in and tell us how [you] feel.”

Miller had asked whether the commissioners had the authority to place a check on the health board, especially given Seifert’s proposal. That check, Peck argued, was Seifert’s colleagues on the health board, who had not taken up the idea.

Peck also pointed out that the board and local Health Officer Dr. Brad Black had only exceeded the mandates handed down by the state once. In the summer, then Gov. Steve Bullock had created a four-case threshold for his pandemic mandates. Black’s order omitted the threshold, meaning requirements like wearing a mask indoors remained in place when active coronavirus cases briefly fell below four in the county.

But the local orders had not shuttered businesses or forced bars and restaurants to close early, Peck said. That came by order of the governor.

Peck also said the health board, like other volunteer boards, did need better training in procedure and communication. It’s a point he has made repeatedly in recent months.

As for the pandemic, Peck highlighted lower case numbers in the county in recent weeks. The percentage of positive tests has dropped from a high in early November. Cases have hovered at under 100 at any given time.

It’s because people are taking personal responsibility, he said. Anecdotally, nearly everyone he knew kept holiday celebrations limited this year, Peck said.

“When you look at our numbers, they are low,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we are out of the woods, It means, I think, people are taking responsibility.”