URBANA - Public health services in Champaign County could resume by this Tuesday following the resolution of a bitter contract dispute.
But the hard feelings caused by the dispute aren't likely to go away quickly.
Champaign County Board members voted 24-2 Thursday night to approve a five-year contract for services agreement with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. The district will serve areas outside of Champaign-Urbana.
The Champaign County Board of Health also unanimously approved the contract during a 9 p.m. special meeting.
The agreement now goes to the public health district's board of health for consideration at its monthly meeting at 5 p.m. Monday.
Public health district Executive Director David King said he expects the district's board of health to approve the agreement - even though the county board also approved a motion to invoke the one-year termination clause of the agreement in what appears at this point to be a symbolic gesture.
"I really don't anticipate a problem" gaining board of health approval, King said. "The board members I've talked to, they're willing and able to restore services now that the county board has approved the contract."
King said home nurse visits for the elderly or disabled, restaurant inspections, water well and septic system inspections, and immunization and wellness clinics will all resume by Tuesday "at the latest" if the district board of health approves the contract. Services were cut off on May 28 after the county board rejected the contract six days earlier.
King said he hopes trust can be restored between the district and the county board of health now that the bitter contract impasse is over.
"I hope so," he said. "I have always thought this was the most logical and economical way to provide service to the county," he said. "There's been a lot of talk and we need to get past that and do our job. We share the same goals."
But proof that hard feelings remain was the county board's passage of a "conditional notice of termination" in a 19-7 vote. The vote means the county board is approving giving one-year's notice to terminate the agreement.
But that termination notice could be less than meets the eye. For one thing, any termination notice would also have to be approved by the county board of health to be effective. And Assistant State's Attorney Joel Fletcher told board members he doesn't think the notice has legal effect because it was approved moments before the county board of health approved the contract and before the district board of health has considered it.
"No party can exercise a right under a contract until the contract is formed," Fletcher wrote in a memo to county board members. "The contract will not be formed until it is approved by all of the parties."
Fletcher also questioned whether proper notice of the termination notice had been given under the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
But county board member Robert Kirchner, D-Urbana, who is the board's liaison to the county board of health, said there "is room for disagreement" with Fletcher's interpretation.
He argued the county board should pass the termination notice, even if it has no legal effect, as a show of support for the county board of health.
"It is very important this board send a very clear message the county board of health by statute is the governing body," Kirchner said.
Not all agreed with the idea.
Steve Beckett, D-rural Urbana, said the termination notice is akin to "sticking a thumb in the eye" of the public health district.
"It's a good lawyer's trick, but it is not needed," he said.
Deborah Frank Feinen, R-Champaign, said the original contract with the district, approved in 1998, didn't include language specifying sites in the county where services would be provided. That issue was a sore point with the county board of health during current negotiations.
"This issue was something that the same people telling us it's the most important issue in the world didn't give a hoot about five years ago because we had to get public health services rolling," Feinen said. "We're in the same place today."
During public participation, two county board of health members, Karen Bojda and Michelle Spading, said they supported ratification of the contract, but they also made clear their support for finding a long-term alternative to contracting with the public health district.
Spading said the county board should support the one-year termination notice to send the public health district a message "they have to deal with us" and to give the county board of health "support and encouragement to begin the planning process to look into other alternatives."
But county board of health President Doug Wright said Thursday he supports staying with the public health district for the long term. "I think it's possible" to save the relationship, he said. "There has to be mutual trust."
County board Chairwoman Patricia Avery, D-Champaign, who sits on the district board of health, said she had found negotiations difficult.
"I have personally negotiated millions of dollars in contracts for Champaign County and I've never witnessed what I've witnessed these past two months," she said. "It's gone from an arm-wrestling match to a mud-wrestling match."
You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.