County health board says access needed, but puts off action on restaurant inspections

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."

Sections (2):News, Local
Categories (2):News, C-U Citizen Access

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just_wondering wrote on September 22, 2011 at 8:09 am

Really? Can't make our own decision on how best to communicate? Nearly all other Champaign County public information is available via the internet on Circuit Clerk and County Clerk websites and we can't decide how best to communicate failed health inspections? Can't decide among what options - skywriting versus a website? Really?

787 wrote on September 22, 2011 at 8:09 am

Nothing but more of the "same old, same old". The folks at the Public Health District seem to want to protect the restaurants, instead of the letting the public know what is really going on. These are the restaurants where WE eat.... but we don't deserve to know?

More excuses, more delays, more stalling, more indecision... and on and on and on.

cretis16 wrote on September 22, 2011 at 9:09 am

1 year ago, I called the health district asking why these inspections were not published as many towns do...all I got was a runaround. They did send me an inspection of 3 local restaurants, although the were not the must public friendly folks. The Lafayette, In paper published all restaurants ratings every 2 weeks in the sunday paper. Hard to believe such basic information flows into the dark hole of government spin.

mikeyy wrote on September 22, 2011 at 10:09 am

Go to WILL website, it showed all of them last Tuesday,,, it would have been easier to list the few that past

IrregularReader wrote on September 22, 2011 at 10:09 am

Did anyone else notice the byline of this story? The N-G is now hiring someone to write an article, an article which mentions the organization that the writer is associated with? The entire topic of this article is something that this organization is deeply involved with. This is not a conflict of interest??
I know -- Maybe in the future the N-G could just hire a police officer to write an account of a crime story. Or a teacher to write about a board of education meeting.
This is horrible journalism. The newspaper has sunk to a real low here. You all can argue that there is nothing wrong with the article and that it seems just fine. But we'll never know what a real reporter would have done with this topic, what items were left out to further the objectives of CU-CitizenAccess.org. There could be parts of this story that newspaper editors never read because, well, the "reporter" never reported them.
Honestly, this is just awful.

Dan Corkery wrote on September 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm
Profile Picture

Thank you for your comments, IrregularReader.

Some background might clear up some of your concerns.

The News-Gazette did not hire CU-CitizenAccess.org to write this story. CUCA offered it to us.

CU-CitizenAccess.org is a project that is operated within the University of Illinois Department of Journalism. Two professors there, Brant Houston and Rich Martin, are the leaders of this effort. Both gentlemen, before they joined the academic world, were working journalists for many years. For about 10 years, Brant was the executive director of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization. Before that, he was an investigative reporter for 17 years. Rich was a reporter and editor at The Roanoke (Va.) Times for 29 years. I know both men and they are quite good at challenging their students, fellow journalists and even editors like me.

CU-CitizenAccess.org is a nonprofit effort that gets its funding from foundations. The Marajen Stevick Foundation, which owns The News-Gazette, provided some of CUCA's funding in its first year. You can read more about its funding at its website. While you there, you ought to read some of its stories and check out the various interactive maps. Very good local information.

One of CU-CitizenAccess' reporters is Pam Dempsey, who was a NG reporter at both the Danville bureau and the main newsroom. She's an ethical and hard-working journalist.

Since 2009, CUCA has reported on a number of local issues: affordable housing, homelessness, housing inspections, hunger, zoning problems at Wilber Heights, rural poverty, and Cherry Orchard Apartments.

We hope to publish more of CUCA is the weeks and months ahead.

Sincerely,
Dan Corkery
managing editor
The News-Gazette
dcorkery@news-gazette.com

mankind wrote on September 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Some public health board! Take taxpayer money but don't show what you've done for it. If those are the rules, I'd like to apply to work for the county, too. Send me the money but don't expect to hear what I do with it. What a deal.

cretis16 wrote on September 22, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Hear the latest.....Let's wait till next year when an organization meets in INDY to get guidance? Gee I wonder what revelation this will be....that we have to wait till 2012 to learn.....Is it really that much of an issue just to publish them on a website or in the News-Gazette...come on people, let us know where the cockroaches are!!!

fasha wrote on September 23, 2011 at 9:09 am

Here is the full article and a map with the businesse info and how many times they failed since 2007.

http://cu-citizenaccess.org/feature/restaurant-inspections