County health board says access needed, but puts off action on restaurant inspections
By DAN PETRELLA/CU-CitizenAccess.org
CHAMPAIGN — Over the past four years, health inspectors failed one out of 10 restaurants, but the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has never informed the public of those failures.
On Tuesday night, members of the Champaign County Board of Health said they believe the public should have easier access to information about inspections of restaurants. But they failed to take immediate action, saying they wanted to wait for a national group to meet in Indianapolis next year and weigh in on the issue.
The Conference for Food Protection will hold its biennial meeting in April, and local health board members said they want to wait for the national group's recommendations on what is the most effective way to communicate inspection scores to the public.
If the board does approve new requirements, they would require Champaign County Board approval before being enacted.
County board member Stan James, who also sits on the board of health, said information about restaurant inspections should be available.
"You know, all of this is done with taxpayers' money," the Rantoul Republican said. "I don't think people really know what all is being done until it comes time to pay their property tax bill, and they complain, but if it is, we ought to be open about it."
James also supported waiting until after the conference makes its recommendations.
The discussion Tuesday followed a report last week by CU-CitizenAccess.org that showed the health district — unlike some other counties and cities in Illinois and across the nation — doesn't make inspection results easily available to the public.
Meanwhile, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Board of Health met Monday but did not discuss the issue, Chairwoman Carol Elliott said. The board had other pressing issues on its agenda, said Elliott, who is also the Cunningham Township supervisor.
The public health district conducts restaurant inspections and provides other services outside Champaign-Urbana on behalf of the county board of health. Services in the cities are overseen by a separate three-member board.
For the past three years, public health district officials have said they intend to post inspection reports on a website, but they have not done so, even though they say it would be important information to the public.
Officials also want to redesign restaurant health permits to make them larger and make the health district's contact information more visible to customers. Those changes wouldn't come until next year at the earliest, they said.
Jim Roberts, who heads the inspection program for the district, said he fully supports making inspection results public. But at Tuesday's meeting, Roberts said the board should wait to hear the results of the Indianapolis meeting in April.
"They have an accumulated knowledge of experts," Roberts told the board. "When they have the recommendations, we could gather together our community partners. ... We might need to tweak what the recommendations are to fit our own community's needs, but I think, at that time, we gather together and develop one uniform system."