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Greenfield needs to retain health inspectors

  • The offices at the Greenfield Health Department sit mostly empty Thursday at the Sanderson Street building following the departure of its health inspectors, Nov. 29, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little


Tuesday, December 04, 2018

We suppose if you are an anarchist you are fine living in a city without health inspectors. While we think that government regulation can become a bit burdensome, especially in a liberal state like Massachusetts, we’d also rather not get sick eating in local restaurants.

The departure of Greenfield’s last remaining health inspector this week amid chaos in the management and funding of the city inspections office should never have happened.

Last fiscal year the city essentially had 2½ inspectors. This year it had 1½, burdening the department to the point the city can’t keep inspectors on the job.

The City Council last month failed to pass a $20,000 supplemental funding request from the mayor and the Board of Health to help re-staff the department. Some have blamed the departures of three different inspectors in the past months on spending cuts fostered by conservative members of the council in last year’s budget writing.

The $20,000 supplemental funding will be reconsidered in coming weeks. We support that spending as a common sense appropriation apparently needed to maintain an inspections department.

Meanwhile, no one seems to have a clear idea what to do starting today when the last inspector walks.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said it specifically does not have any rules or regulations that require boards of health to have an inspector or contracted inspector, according to spokesman Omar Cabrera. State law, though, does require an established board of health or, if not, for a governing body like a Board of Selectmen to act as the board of health.

Cheryl Sbarra, senior staff attorney and director of law policy with the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, said in her roughly 25 years in the field, the situation in Greenfield is unprecedented.

She said she’s seen small towns of less than a thousand people go without a health inspector, but even in those cases, they tap shared inspectors from something like the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. The mayor had mentioned the possibility of subcontracting health inspection services with COG as a stop gap, but as far as we can see, it has just been talk.

Sbarra said it’s critical for a board of health to be able to enforce what it is tasked with doing, like protecting the health, safety and welfare of its residents. Without health inspectors, this becomes difficult, and has turned into a “precarious” position in Greenfield, she said.

The last part-time inspector, Chelsey Little, was working full-time, by herself, before deciding to resign in November, because of the workload. She was courted to come back, but only part-time. There was a hope that Mayor William Martin could bring money back to the department’s budget, which could at least bring it up to 1½ health inspectors. This didn’t end up happening, so Little decided to leave.

Everyone seems to agree a community the size of Greenfield needs health inspectors, and we’re not sure what kind of political power trips have led us here, but it should stop right now. The mayor, council and Board of Health need to get together and solve this funding problem, arrange for interim emergency inspectors and quickly conduct a search for permanent replacements.

There’s no excuse for this circumstance.