The Ravalli County Board of Health (BOH) approved a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Board of County Commissioners last Wednesday that was designed to bring it into conformance with state law following the passage of House Bills 257 and 121. The legislation, championed by local Representative David Bedey, was designed to clarify the relationship between the two boards and give more authority to local elected officials.
“Basically, the new statute strips the Board of Health of a bunch of authority that it had under the old MOU,” said Jeff Burrows, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners and the Board of Health. He said under the previous law and the previous MOU the Board of Health had authority to appoint the County Health Officer and set the salary for the position.
According to Burrows, there were unresolved conflicts under the old law and the old MOU. He said the County Commissioners have the clear authority to set the budget and to hire and fire employees. But how can the Board of Health hire an employee and set a salary with no budget authority?
The new MOU makes it clear that the BOH can only make a recommendation to the county commissioners and the commissioners will make the appointment and set the salary. The MOU states specifically that during the process of hiring any employee of the Department of Health, Public Health Nursing Department, or the Tobacco Coordinator, that the commissioners shall solicit input from the Board of Health. The BOH may also participate on the hiring committee in those cases. The Commissioners will also provide and fund a secretary for BOH business and meetings. The commissioners will handle all employment discipline issues and any discharges.
Another thing clarified in the new MOU, according to Burrows, is that it is the Board of County Commissioners that adopts the county’s Wastewater Discharge Regulations, not the BOH. He said the BOH does have the power under the new MOU to make its own rules for implementing the county regulations. It does give the BOH the ability to adopt and enforce rules for implementing the regulations.
“It is really where the authority comes in anyway,” he said, “the variance decisions, the fines and penalties, everything that comes along with enforcing the regulations.”
“I don’t think the new law is going to change things very much here in Ravalli County,” said Burrows. “The Board of Commissioners has a good relationship with the Board of Health, the Health Officer, the Public Health Nurse. We all work together relatively well.” He said he thought the Board of Health has taken the changes in the law “in stride.”
He said even though the BOH did appoint the Health Officer and set the salary in the past, they always did it in conjunction and consultation with the commissioners.
“That won’t change much,” he said. “We will be consulting with them, like they did with us.”
There was some discussion at the end of the meeting on Wednesday about the status of the Health Officer position and whether the position was open or not.
Burrows clarified to the Bitterroot Star on Monday that, as far as he knew from last talking with her, Dr. Carol Calderwood was willing to continue her employment as Health Officer. He said a year and a half ago she offered her resignation but it was declined. She subsequently withdrew her resignation and agreed to continue as the Health Officer until a replacement was found. He said the county advertised the position at the time and received four applications but they found two of the applicants lacked the qualifications and the other two decided to not accept the job after hearing about the pay range and the time commitment, especially during COVID.
He said they decided to keep Calderwood on the job. A couple more applications trickled in but the job announcement was pulled from the website. He said the recent applicant who spoke up at the Health Board meeting last week must have seen some old posting somewhere because it had not been on the county website for months.
Burrows said that it was the county attorney’s office opinion that any further interviews were not necessary and that Dr. Calderwood could continue working in the position if she desires. He said he talked to Calderwood the previous week.
“My understanding is that she is still interested in being the full time Health Officer. She is not looking to be replaced at this point,” he said. “I need to call and clarify that with her, but that’s my understanding. We did restructure the pay a little bit and raised her pay but I think that she is satisfied with the compensation and satisfied to continue as the Health Officer. That’s where it stands now.”
Dr. Calderwood could not be reached for comment.