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Greenfield losing its last health inspector

  • The Greenfield City Hall File Photo/Paul Franz



Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2018

GREENFIELD — Come November the city may no longer have a single health inspector. Since budget cuts this summer the three-person health inspections department has emptied out.

Wednesday morning the last health inspector submitted her resignation, effective Nov. 2, citing the stress of effectively running the department on her own and of not knowing when relief might come.

“I feel like the public are the ones that are going to hurt not having a fully staffed health department, and that’s my biggest concern leaving, because I feel for the people of Greenfield,” said Chelsey Little, who is currently completing a master’s degree program in public health from the University of Vermont.

When Little was hired she moved over from working as the laboratory manager for the city’s water and wastewater departments. She was hired in the wake of the February firing of the Health Director Alexeev Jones, after a report from the Greenfield Recorder that detailed his lack of qualifications for the job, which he had told the city he had.

Within a couple of weeks of Little taking the position, the City Council proposed sweeping cuts to the budget, including significant cuts to the health and building departments. These cuts have become the political fodder for explaining myriad issues that have arisen in recent months, including the homeless encampment on the Greenfield Common this summer.

“We certainly wouldn’t have had the issue with the camping on the common,” if there had been at least another inspector in the health department, Board of Health Chairman Steve Adams said at the Greenfield Board of Health monthly meeting Tuesday night.

At the time of his comments, the board didn’t know Little was going to announce her resignation the next morning.

At the meeting, Adams and member Dr. William Doyle, who was the longtime chairman of the board, pleaded for the council to help them afford a new director. Present for this plea was Mark Smith, the mayor’s chief of staff, who encouraged the board to advocate for themselves before the Greenfield City Council.

“Unfortunately, (the mayor) made a big mistake,” Doyle said, about not filling the director position.

“And we’re trying to correct it now,” Smith said. “That’s all I can say now.”

Yet, Mayor William Martin said there is a more urgent need now.

There is a chance that a “critical” request from the mayor at the City Council meeting next week could provide a stop-gap measure.

He said he will propose a contracted deal with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, but it’s more complicated than a temporary contract to cover inspections until the city finds a new, full-time inspector.

The request, as currently negotiated between the city and FRCOG, according to the mayor, will put the city into a three-year contract worth about $150,000. The cost is similar to the price of an in-house inspector, said former Finance Director Lane Kelly, who came out of retirement in August to run the city’s books on a volunteer basis — following the firing of Elizabeth Braccia the month prior.

Regardless of the sudden resignation, Martin said he was going to come to the council with an “emergency” request for the $50,000 to pay for immediate contract work from FRCOG. The hired health inspector would work on food establishments, which would leave a host of work still unaccounted for in the department.

The $50,000 comes from the roughly $53,000 the council, which was under the direction of then-President Bricket Allis and Vice President Isaac Mass, cut.

“This combustible department is directly related to the council’s cut,” Martin said. “With that cut there was no skin left to buffer any unseen or unknown consequences.”

A May document from the City Council explained the reasoning for the elimination of a position in the health department, as articulated by Allis and Mass.

“The department was so underworked that they focused on picayune and self-serving/generated complaints including but not limited to bringing court action related to the length of grass of one of the inspector’s immediate neighbors,” reads the rational by Allis and Mass for the $52,900 budget cut.

Martin said this cut has “crippled” the department and led to decreased revenue, which is having a “ripple effect,” including a backlog in inspections for both the health and building departments.

“Equally important, it’s causing some real angst in the community,” Kelly said, referring to the public perception.

The mayor has considered restructuring the health and building departments to have a collective four inspectors between the two. Martin said he does value a health director or manager of sorts.

Little said that without an inspector, the department lacked structure and guidance and which made for a difficult work environment. Martin said he understood the difficulties Little faced, and added it was “quite a burden to place the entire department on her shoulders.”

Now, at the very least regarding food inspections, filling a pending void will rest on the City Council, which will hear next week for the first time the mayor’s formal request for the $50,000 to fund the FRCOG inspection work.

“As a community healthy nurse, I consider our situation grave and dangerous,” Martin said. “I want to relay to the residents, we’re doing our best to provide a service we’ve promised.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264