Health Board Members Hold onto Their Spots Despite Some Opposition

Renominations for two Health Board members succeeded Monday night at the Representative Town Meeting, but it wasn’t until after a swirl of pleas circulated over the weekend via the RTM all-230 email – some defending the nominees and some decrying their participation in a Health Board’s unanimous vote to repeal the town noise ordinance.

That vote, taken last December, meant the town was for several weeks subject to the much more lenient state noise law that meant, for example, garbage was getting picked up before 5:00am.

And during those weeks, as town officials scrambled behind the scenes to rectify the situation, the state law exempted “construction noise,” resulting in numerous complaints to the town.

And of course, there were the two RTM committee vote leading up to Monday’s meeting that were not so favorable.

The two candidates were Lauren O’Keefe, a registered nurse, and Dr. Sarah Gamble (DO) who is the doctor of record for the Board of Health.

In her committee report, Health and Human Services chair Alison Soler, said that when her committee asked Dr. Gamble about why she voted to rescind the noise ordinance, Dr. Gamble replied that there was no medical evidence to prove that gas power leaf blowers were detrimental to residents’ health.

Nevertheless, Monday’s full RTM vote took a more holistic approach to the nominees, and several speakers, including First Selectman Fred Camillo, urged RTM members to consider that particular noise ordinance vote as an isolated event.

Camillo said that as a former legislator in Hartford, having cast thousands of votes, it was important to judge people on their overall records.

“I did not agree with that vote, and I was pretty vocal about it,” he said, a reference to his call for the Health Board Chair Joel Muhlbaum to resign. “But I don’t think anybody in here would like to be judged on your worst vote or even your best vote. You’d rather be judged on the totality of your record.”

“She’s been a treasure to that board and that department,” Camillo added.

Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan explained her dissenting vote from the 3-member Board of Selectmen on the renominations.

“What decided the matter for me was the appearance of – if not an actual – violation, of the Freedom of Information Act.  Whether or not one is a supporter of the restrictions on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, we expect the actions of our boards to be transparent and follow a collaborative process, and in my view the Board of Health did not uphold this standard when it took its vote.”

No Harm No Foul?

Dr. Michael Goldstein spoke in favor of O’Keefe and Gamble. He said that while he disagreed about how the board handled the noise ordinance, the consequence of the town having no local noise ordinance for several weeks after the Health Board vote was minimal.

“The issue was quickly resolved by the RTM who aggressively and promptly passed a new ordinance by a strong majority vote,” he said.

Defending Health Board member Lauren O’Keefe, Goldstein said, “The candidate has performed her duties in dealing with public health issues, including during the pandemic as the only nurse practitioner member of the board.”

“She is a strong-willed fighter for what she believes in and serves as a vital role of the board,” he said, adding that Ms O’Keefe should not be judged by their vote on a single issue.

Karen Fassuliotis also spoke in favor of both Ms O’Keefe and Dr. Gamble.

Referring to the Health Board vote, she said that by repealing the noise ordinance the Health Board gave the RTM the power to craft an ordinance with gas leaf blower restrictions.

“Personal attacks and vitriol – when the exchange brings a nominated volunteer to tears – by members of this body and the public, on this or any other nominee – are completely unwarranted  and cast a chilling effect on anyone seeking to volunteer countless hours on behalf of the town,” Fassuliotis said.

Ms Fassuliotis referred to Dr. Gamble as a Medical Doctor, though Dr. Gamble is an Osteopath (DO).

“Dr. Gamble is a respected doctor, has devoted countless volunteer hours to our town as the sole Medical Doctor of the board, she serves as the doctor who assures there are standing orders for the Health Dept.”

“That service, I’ve been told, if you do not approve her tonight will cost us $20,000 or more if she is not renominated,” Fassuliotis added.

RTM moderator Alexis Voulgaris asked Fassuliotis to clarify the reference to a $20,000 cost.

“We would have to hire a doctor to provide the service she now provides,” Fassuliotis said.

“You understand that members serve until replaced?” Voulgaris asked.

“She could decide to step down and not serve, and we’d have to hire someone,” Fassuliotis said.

“That’s speculative,” Voulgaris said.

The town charter has a section titled, “Health Board: Membership, Number and Appointment.” There is no mention the board must include a doctor.

Gerald Anderson spoke in favor of Dr. Gamble.

“First I need to tell you that Dr. Gamble is my doctor,” he said. “It seems that her only sin is she is politically inexperienced in working for a board. She didn’t understand the importance of consulting with the First Selectman, the RTM and other interested parties on controversial issues. This failing I think has been very clearly communicated to her by the Appoints committee and the Health and Human Services committee.”

“I hope you will overlook her failure to consult with these committees because it is clear that she is not going to make that mistake again,” Anderson said.

Aaron Leonard disagreed.

“The issue before the RTM is not whether Dr. Gamble is a good person,” he said. “I’m sure she is. It’s not whether she provides good service to her patients. That is not the issue here. The issue before the RTM – is she a good candidate to be on the Board of Health? I’m afraid the answer is no.”

Mr. Leonard said the vote on the leaf blower restrictions was not controversial when the RTM voted on it. In fact the vote on to restore the noise ordinance amended to include gas leaf blower restrictions was 135 yes, 64 no 6 abstain.

“Make no mistake, We are involved in a political endeavor – by which I don’t mean parties – but the votes we take are recorded and there are consequences for those decisions,” Mr. Leonard said. “We serve the public, as do the members of the Board of Health or any other members we vote on. And they have failed in that duty.”

“They unilaterally made the decision to strike down the law that gave us home rule that gave us control over the noise ordinance. This was not done in coordination with the legal department. This was not one in coordination with the RTM. They could have taken a stand if that’s what they truly felt…but Dr. Gamble did not oppose this move by the (chair) of the Board of Health. She did not abstain. She went along with it.”

“The fact that we, this body, were able to come in and fix that is not to their credit. It is to our credit,” Mr. Leonard added. “There was no plan when they did that. They had no idea what the consequences would be, but that gave them no pause.”

Dr. Gamble said she was “the man for the job.” She said she was raised in Greenwich to be “radically generous” and that it was her goal to ensure that there are no health disparities in Greenwich.

“We are a very diverse town. We cannot let there be an unequal distribution of healthcare.”

“Yes, I am the doctor of record for the Dept of Health. Yes, I sign off on the procedures. Yes, I give the orders for the medications. Yes, I help direct our infection and policies and procedures.”

Health Dept Director Caroline Baisley spoke in favor of Dr. Gamble, saying she was the “physician of record” for the Dept of Health and medical advisor to not only the division of family health, but also to the office of special clinical services, which oversees HIV and STD testing and counseling, as well as the town’s laboratory.

She said Dr. Gamble also approved standing orders for family health nurses to administer free immunizations through the CT Vaccines for Children program for children from birth to 18 years of age.

Baisley described Dr. Gamble as a crucial member of the Board of Health whose commitment to the community of Greenwich was reflected by her years of volunteering.

“Her services as medical advisor and as doctor of record are vital to the ongoing operation and services of the Greenwich Dept of Health,” Baisley said. “We have free licensed clinics that need a doctor of record.”

“Dr. Gamble is readily available to the Director of Health, which is myself, for consultation on program activities and medical issues that arise in Greenwich,” she added. “Additionally she provides guidance to the director of Family Health who is an ARPN of both clinical and nursing operations.”

The vote on Ms O’Keefe was 123 in favor, 55 opposed and 17 abstaining.

The vote on Dr. Gamble was 125 in favor, 50 opposed and 13 abstaining.

See also:

Following Health Board’s “Bewildering” Repeal of Noise Ordinance, RTM Postpones Gas-Power Leaf Item Dec 12, 2023

First Selectman Camillo Calls for Board of Health Chair to Step Down Over Noise Ordinance Decision Dec 11, 2023

Greenwich Board of Health Surrenders Local Control to Hartford Dec 7, 2023

Restricting Gas Powered Leaf Blowers? Dozens Testify at RTM in Support of Amended Noise Ordinance Oct 24, 2023

Health Board Rejects Gas Leaf Blower Ordinance; Votes to Create Landscaper Registration System June 27, 2023

Pressure Mounts on Board of Health at Hearing on Expanded Gas-Powered Blower Restrictions May 23, 2023