The Barry County Commision meeting Tuesday was routine until the last agenda item; Commissioner Howard “Hoot” Gibson’s request for a study of the Barry Eaton District Health Department to look at its budget and the feasibility of establishing an independent Barry County Health Department.
“When I saw they had $100,000 in mileage, it got my attention. If we had one of our own, it would be half as much," Gibson said.
An ad hoc committee of three commissioners was appointed to look into Gibson’s request, but not before sparks flew and personal comments were made. Commissioners David Jackson and Chair Ben Geiger argued against using staff time and resources to study the proposal when they already have the jail and COA projects on their plates.
Gibson said an ad hoc committee had minimum costs and worked well with the officer’s compensation study.
“it goes against common sense,” that they are qualified on their own to deal with the huge scope of the health department’s unfunded liability, budget, staffing requirements and health department programs, Jackson said.
Jackson said the department is financially stable, its budget increased just $10,000 in the last ten years, yet some commissioners, “continue to hammer away at the health department like it’s failing, that they’re not doing their job…it’s a nationally credited health department.”
Gibson started to say he wasn’t looking forward to spending a million dollars on mileage when Geiger gaveled him silent.
“This issue is emotional,” Geiger said, “and I’m trying to contain my disappointment for using the health department for political reasons.”
He would work with those who wanted to save money, “maybe next spring when the jail thing is behind us...” he said.
Visibly agitated with his voice rising, Geiger continued: “But, those who want use the health department as a political punching bag before November 6, we have more important stuff to do.”
”What I’m not going to do, if I’m sitting in this chair next year, I’m not putting together a kangaroo court to come up with a political solution to the health department. That’s not what we’re elected to do and I’m not going to go down that road.”
Gibson said “So you're saying…” to be gaveled into silence again.
“I’m saying I’m talking” Geiger said, “to put this behind us until the staff is in a position where they can do something….”
“There is only one person on this board with political aspirations and we know who it is,” Commissioner Jon Smelker said to Geiger. ”You just remember that.” //
Commissioner Vivian Conner objected to Geiger: “You gaveled Dave and Hoot’s conversation because it is too emotional and then you go on and accuse people of doing it for political purposes before the November 6 election. Then when they tried to talk, you gaveled them again,” she said.
“I was finishing my statement,” Geiger said.
“But, you gaveled them again,” she said.
“I thought the discussion was going off the rails,” he replied.
Conner persisted: “That’s what we do here, we discuss things...it is emotional; we know it’s out there…it’s not a political thing, it’s out there, people are talking about it.”
Commissioner Dan Parker, who sits on the Health Board with Geiger and Jackson, said there might be ways to save taxpayers money. “But there’s a matter of trust here and it’s because people are not going to the health board and asking direct questions and getting direct answers. “If they are not getting direct answers, then I’d like to get involved with it.”
Conner thanked Parker for the “constructive, kind and fair way,” he gave his views.
She then turned to Jackson and Geiger. “You two are always throwing out little jabs, personal pet peeves; you guys are the leaders; when our constituents come to us and ask us what’s going on, we have the right to do it, it is not micromanagement. You have to be professional too, and not use those little tag lines…”
Commissioner Heather Wing said she hears about the health department at every township meeting she attends. People ask when she is going to look at it, and, “it’s not always hostile.” The commission should, “not kick the can down the road... we should look at it,” she said.
Geiger agreed to find an independent firm to look into it after Tower Pinkster, the consulting company for the new jail and COA, has a schedule set.
Conner suggested that Geiger, “use the gavel a little more fairly, not just to silence someone who disagrees with you.”
“Okay, this is getting too emotional,” Geiger said. “But we have consensus that we are going to look at what’s best for our taxpayers, but now is not the time.”
Smelker made a motion for three commissioners (Wing, Parker and himself) to look into the health department budget and report back to the commission before the end of the year. The motion passed 6-1, with Jackson dissenting.
Geiger later apologized to Gibson and Conner if he had come on too strong.
“Thank you for that,” Conner said
“I’m used to it,” Gibson said.