WATSEKA — Saying "we need to fix what's broken," the Iroquois County Board chairman will ask for the resignation this week of three of his county's four appointees on the Ford-Iroquois Board of Health.
The county board's policy and procedure committee voted 6-0 Thursday to authorize Chairman Rod Copas to ask for the resignations of health board members Diane Clatterbuck, a registered nurse from Donovan; Jill Kaeb, a registered nurse from Cissna Park; and Dr. Alexander Michalow, a Bradley resident who has an orthopedic practice at Iroquois Memorial Hospital in Watseka.
If they do not voluntarily resign, Copas said, he will ask for the county board to remove all three at next Tuesday's meeting, and replacements will be appointed.
"I will probably make a call Friday to all three of them, and see what they want to do," Copas said.
The county board committee discussed Thursday a variety of concerns about the board of health, including the possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act and other state statutes and neglecting to notify the Ford and Iroquois county boards of various actions taken.
Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department spokesman Julie Clark said the health department would have no comment.
Meanwhile, the board of health's president, Dr. Kevin Brucker of Gibson City, said later on Thursday that "for (the Iroquois County Board) to remove the people makes it sounds like something nefarious or wrong was done, but as far as I know, the board (of health) has done nothing wrong to warrant removal of those people."
Copas stressed that he was not suggesting the board of health intended to violate any law, policy or procedure. Copas said his concern is that they should have been aware of the rules.
"Although we're sure that the board members had every intention of doing things correctly, it's time for a change, and we just feel that we need to do that," Copas said after Thursday's meeting. "I don't know these people personally. I'm sure they're wonderful people. I have no personal issues with them. But in a business sense, it seems that this thing is a little bit helter-skelter, and we need to get it fixed."
According to state statutes, "any member (of a multi-county board of health) may be removed for misconduct or neglect of duty by the chairman or president of the county board, with the approval of the county board, of the county which appointed him."
Meanwhile, Rick Bowen, chairman of the Ford County Board, said he does not feel it is necessary to remove his county's four appointees on the health board — or any of the board of health members, for that matter. The board of health comprises one member of the Ford and Iroquois county boards, respectively, plus three other appointees from each county.
"I have absolutely no interest in pursuing a change," Bowen said Thursday in a phone interview. "If there are Ford County Board members who would like to discuss it, we'll certainly discuss it. But I'm very comfortable with those serving on the Ford-Iroquois Board of Health currently."
On Thursday, Copas discussed with his board's policy and procedure committee the fact that the board of health's minutes for its May 2010 meeting show that the board approved, with only four of eight members present, several action items, including a list of bills from the previous seven months, totaling "about $1.4 to $1.6 million." The Open Meetings Act requires a "quorum of members of a public body" to be "physically present" for a meeting to be held.
Also, the minutes of that meeting show that one of the action items voted upon was seconded by board of health member John Dowling, via a telephone call, the day after the meeting occurred.
It was not until about 10 months later that the board of health approved a process by which it could vote by a phone call, Copas said, citing that meeting's minutes.
Brucker, meanwhile, said he believes there were only six members on the board at that time, so the board had assumed four constituted a quorum.
Brucker said he could not comment on the phone-vote policy.
Copas also raised concern about the per-diem pay board of health members have been receiving. A state statute says their compensation is limited to reimbursement for "actual necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties," such as mileage reimbursement, Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine said. He said per-diem pay is not permitted.
Brucker responded by saying the six board of health members who do not also serve on their respective county boards have been paid a per-diem fee of $25 by the health department "in lieu of mileage because everybody came from different places, so they just paid everyone the same amount."
Brucker noted that the health department has not been paying the two county board appointees; instead, those two are paid by their own counties, he said.
In Ford County, the county pays both mileage reimbursement and $50 per board of health meeting attended by its appointee, while Iroquois County pays its appointee $25 per meeting plus mileage.
Another concern raised by Copas was that the board of health has voted several times to amend its budget in the past two years, but it did so without approval of the county boards or notifying the county boards. Copas said the county boards are the only entities that have authority to amend the agency's budget.
"Their budget has to come to us, and they're not doing that," Copas said. "When reading through the minutes of the public health board, they are almost amending every budget (without approval)."
Brucker, meanwhile, said the two county board appointees on the board of health are responsible for notifying their county boards of actions taken, including budgetary amendments. He said he assumed that was happening. Also, he said he assumed that health department Administrator Doug Corbett was providing budget changes to the county boards.
"I'm pretty sure the county boards had to approve that before we could finalize the budget," Brucker said.
Another issue that was discussed Thursday was the board of health's approval of the expansion of the agency's home-health program into two neighboring counties in Indiana. The Indiana home-health program was later dropped after Devine warned it would be illegal to spend tax dollars to provide services outside the jurisdiction of Ford and Iroquois counties. About 20 percent of the health department's funding comes from property taxes in the two counties.
Copas said he was concerned that when he tried to bring it to the board of health's attention that the move would be illegal in October 2012, the board of health continued to move forward with the program for several more months.
"They just kept going ahead," Copas said.
But Brucker said there was no clear indication of the legality of the move at that time, adding that both county's state's attorneys, plus the health department's, had not determined anything yet.
"At the time, they could not find a statute that says it wasn't able to be done," Brucker said, "and as far as we knew, there's nothing illegal about it. ... It was one of those things where nobody really had the answer."
He said both Devine and Ford County State's Attorney Matt Fitton "were kind of seesawing back and forth, as well," until Devine made a determination in January that the move would not be illegal.
Another issue, according to Copas, is that one board of health member — Michalow — has not attended a meeting in almost a year. The board of health meets quarterly.
Copas has also recently brought into question a number of expenses of the health department. Copas asked the county's auditor to review those expenses, and that process is ongoing, he said Thursday.
The board of health has since contended the costs were completely justified.
Copas, meanwhile, said Thursday: "Nobody's saying there's anything wrong. What we're saying is it's our job to ask questions."
The board of health members being asked to step down all have terms expiring in 2013. Clatterbuck originally was appointed in 1992, while Kaeb has been on the board since 2004 and Michalow since 2010.
The motion to ask for their resignations was made by John Shure of Buckley and seconded by Marvin Stichnoth of Milford. Voting in favor were Bret Schmid of Onarga, Russell Bills of Watseka, Shure, Stichnoth, Kyle Anderson of Beaverville and Copas of Onarga.
Copas, who appointed himself as Iroquois County's fourth member of the board of health in December, said he plans to continue serving on the health board "for the foreseeable future."
Ford County's board of health members are the board's president-elect, Brucker; Dr. Bernadette Ray of Gibson City; the Rev. Teddie Jensen of Piper City; and Elynor Stagen of Gibson City, who is the Ford County Board's representative.
The two county boards last month formed an advisory committee, with members of both county boards, to monitor the activities of the health department and make recommendations. The advisory committee has yet to meet, but Copas said Thursday that Anderson plans to be in touch with Ford County Board member Randy Berger of Gibson City to set up a meeting soon.
Paxton Record correspondent Sandy Coffey contributed to this report.