City’s lone health inspector resigns

  • The offices at the Greenfield Health Department sit mostly empty following the departure of its health inspectors in November. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/3/2019 11:31:24 PM
Modified: 5/3/2019 11:31:10 PM

GREENFIELD — After two months on the job, the city’s lone health inspector has issued his resignation from the embattled department.

Ivan Kwagala’s last day will be Friday, May 10. As he leaves, the department’s long-awaited new health director will start. Valerie Bird, the health director for the foothills towns, will begin Thursday and be the lone inspector on staff.

“Right now it’s not the right place for me and I’m going to continue with my schooling and apply elsewhere,” Kwagala said.

With Kwagala’s departure, this marks the sixth staff change in the last two years. The department has been in turmoil since its director was fired in February 2018 following a report from the Recorder that detailed his lack of qualifications for the job, which he had told the city he had.

The department is also without the help of Glen Ayers, the longtime regional health agent who volunteered his assistance to the board in February. Mayor William Martin directed the Board of Health about a month ago to not use his services, according to an email correspondence. The decision followed an internal debate over Ayers signing a liability form for his volunteer work.

Ayers had said he wanted to “help rebuild” the inspection team, but not to be a full-time employee, because “I don’t think that would help solve the problem.” Ayers also wanted to provide his expertise on lead paint and septic systems, which tends to be hard to come by, city officials have said.

Ayers completed two septic inspections and began to train Kwagala. Now, Ayers is no longer working with the city, which does not have anyone to work on septic or lead paint inspections.

Ayers was critical of the mayor’s handling of the health department and its personnel.

“This is complete abuse of his power as a mayor,” Ayers said Friday. “Somebody needs to stand up to him because he’s a bully. We’ve seen this before.”

Martin retorted that Ayers’ comments were “manufactured issues.”

“I’m supposed to be some type of bully, apparently for whom? The Board of Health? For Ivan? For whom? It’s just ridiculous,” Martin said.

A split City Council voted in the summer no confidence in the mayor, following reports of alleged bullying of city employees; the city is currently being sued by two former directors. After 10 years as the city’s chief executive, Martin will not be running for reelection, giving way to the third-ever mayor of Greenfield. 

“This is a political campaign looking for a slogan,” Martin said. “I’m still not going to retire until Dec. 31.”

The Board of Health will be without its chairman soon, as well. 

Steve Adam, who took over as chairman last year for Dr. William Doyle, told the city he will not ask to be re-appointed this July. His term ends in June. 

“That’s going to be a loss for that board,” Martin said. 

Adam declined to comment for this story and directed all questions to the mayor.  

’Under the microscope’

For four weeks in late 2018, the city was left without a health inspector. Massachusetts Association of Health Boards Senior Staff Attorney and Director of Law Policy Cheryl Sbarra at the time called it unprecedented in her 25 years in the field. “It’s very disillusioning,” she said in November.

The City Council decided to fund the Health Department in December following a lengthy political debate among a split council. Ultimately everyone but At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass voted to restore funding to the health department. 

The funding of the health department indirectly led to a shortfall in money that was planned for the schools; the Greenfield Public Schools now face a potential funding cliff in part after using money this school year that wasn’t there to use. 

During the 2018 budget cycle, Mass and, now-mayoral candidate, Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis had pushed to cut about $53,000 from the department’s budget. They wrote in a budget document: “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.” 

In December, the department was scheduled to receive about $19,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. The request to put the funding back to the department was led by Precinct 6 Councilor Sheila Gilmour, who is now running for mayor. She said in December, “If you don’t vote for this, you need to resign because you’re not taking care of the city.” 

Now the departmentis funded to employ at least staff two inspectors, but it has struggled to retain staff. Mayor William Martin said Friday the position has been “under the microscope” because of the council’s cuts. 

“It’s not been easy to find people to work there because of the council,” Martin said, 

In Kwagala’s two months he has been able to catch up on restaurant inspections. About 80 percent of establishments that serve food in Greenfield were overdue for a health inspection by 2019, according to department data. 

Some local businesses were delayed from opening because of a lack of health inspectors in Greenfield. 

Kwagala said the department has a significant backlog in housing complaints and inspections. He said a department with a director and two full-time inspectors could complete the work needed. The Health Department has fluctuated form 2 ½ employees to one part-time employee in the past two years. 

“I’m disappointed,” Martin said. “We’d like to have new employees love their spot and grow in their position, but this didn’t happen. Plus it’s one of the critical jobs in the state, along with building inspectors. There aren’t many of them, so we don’t want to lose them.”

Martin said the city tried to support Kwagala from potential “overt and covert attacks on him.” 

“There might have previous disdain for inspectors,” Martin said. “We wanted to make sure that Ivan was accepted by everybody.”

Kwagala ran into a couple of issues while on the job, Martin said. 

Once when he went attempted to conduct a health inspection during a busy time at a downtown establishment and the other when he unknowingly asked too many questions about a person’s service dog in the cafeteria at Greenfield Community College, according to the mayor. He said he had conversations with Kwagala about the reported incidents. 

Martin said his understanding of why Kwagala decided to walk from the job is because it was too busy in Greenfield and he was too far from his home. 

Kwagala offered a couple of parting words on his final week on the job. 

“Support your Board of Health because we’re doing what we can to protect the public,” Kwagala said. “We just need the help. We are doing the best we can.” 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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