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Without inspectors, Health Board idles

  • The offices at the Greenfield Health Department sit mostly empty following the departure of its health inspectors. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The offices at the Greenfield Health Department sit mostly empty following the departure of its health inspectors. Staff Photo/Dan Little



Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

GREENFIELD — There’s a bakery being built on Main Street, and owner Brian Meunier came before the Board of Health Tuesday night, wondering when the city might be able to approve his business.

“We’re on the homestretch,” said Meunier, who hopes to open in January.

“I don’t know what to tell you, but we need your business in town,” Greenfield Board of Health Chairman Steve Adam replied, as board members grappled with the loss of all the city’s health inspectors and even considered resigning as the City Council and mayor have failed to provide the money needed to keep the department staff.

Meunier has worked with a revolving door of inspectors as he’s tried to prepare his bakery. Jami Kolosewicz and Chelsey Little are two of the three health inspectors who have worked for the Greenfield Health Department in the last year, all since the department’s director was fired by the mayor following a Greenfield Recorder investigation into his lack of credentials. Since then, the department has been decimated by budget cuts and a staff that’s too thin to run properly, its former inspectors and the Board of Health members contend. Little left Monday. Last year the department had 2½ inspectors. This year it had 1½.

Adam said he had considered resigning after the City Council two weeks ago failed to appropriate an extra $20,000 for health inspectors.

To quit?

On Tuesday, among conversations of a bakery and a prospective soup business on Main Street, the board directly discussed its own future. In a unanimous decision, the three members decided to stay on, despite the bleak circumstances.

“At this point we’re the voice that’s speaking up for the citizens of Greenfield,” Adam said. “If we were to walk away, we’d be no better than some of the other players that brought us to the brink, but I’d like to believe we’re better than that.”

While the board members discussed their plan to stay, Meunier remained in the audience, trying to sort out the possibility his bakery may be held up from opening because there are no inspectors.

Adam suggested getting in touch with either the Franklin Regional Council of Governments health inspector or a private one to at least consult him on what he may need when Greenfield’s inspectors do eventually come.

“I wish I had a bright outlook,” Adam said, “but that’s the brightest outlook I have.”

Adam also said he plans to propose the mayor hire a temporary, on-call inspector until the City Council sorts out funding for the Health Department.

“I think this is about as dark as it’s going to get,” Adam said. “There is some light at the end of the tunnel.”

As of Nov. 28, prior to Little’s departure this week, the Health Department had $21,417 available in its budget, according to an accountant report provided by the assistant accountant of Greenfield, Angelica Desroches.

Bottom-line numbers on the books of the health department have been debated among city officials.

Last week, neither the mayor nor the Accounting and Finance Department could say how much was left, although they all agreed it was in the realm of $20,000. There have been discussions of how much money is actually there in part because of the city’s own confusions over its overall books, transitions in budgeting tools and because of money owed to Little, a former employee of the Department of Public Works as well, following her departure.

Board of Health member and former longtime chairman Dr. William Doyle said this speaks to the need of having a director for the department, who can oversee the day-to-day operations. He said the mayor has talked about the idea of merging the health and building departments into one, with one overall director.

“It was not clear how it would work out and it didn’t work out,” Doyle said.

At the Dec. 19 City Council meeting at Greenfield High School, the request for supplemental inspections money will be revisited. At the same meeting there is expected to be lots of discussion about funding a new public library.

“Unfortunately the Board of Health isn’t like the library,” Adam said, acknowledging a difference in public support. “We don’t have people running around with green T-shirts saying support the health department. We don’t have lawn signs.”

Soup

Adam and the board also had to decide to temporarily slow another prospective Main Street business. “Tiny Soup Kitchen” hopes to go in the place of Ice Cream Alley during winter months, but the business plan caused the board hesitation.

The owners hope to do the cooking in Mesa Verde, which is around the corner. The Mexican restaurant, though, is currently one of three in Greenfield on an inspection schedule, following a violation; New Fortune and Taco Bell are also on a probation-like period. The board said they haven’t had any issues with Mesa since the initial incident, but they wouldn’t want to approve a new business using Mesa’s kitchen.

All the while there are several restaurants in town that either have inspections coming up or are well overdue, like Magpie Pizza, which was last inspected February 2017, or Hope & Olive, which was last inspected July 2017, according to Health Department records.

The board members sorted through paperwork, realizing they had no good solution for the Tiny Soup Kitchen as they looked at each other.

“Really wish we had a director,” Adam said to his fellow board members Doyle and Kelly Dixon. He turned to the audience, which included City Councilor Otis Wheeler. “It’s a really great use of the space.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264