WATSEKA — The ongoing dispute between the chairmen of the Ford and Iroquois county boards over the proposed removal of Ford-Iroquois Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett has led them to consider disbanding the agency.
Discontinuing the bi-county health department — and forming two separate health departments with other neighboring counties — was discussed during a meeting of Ford County Board Chairman Rick Bowen and Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas on June 13, both confirmed Friday.
Copas informed his board's policy and procedure committee of the continuing discussions Thursday. Copas confirmed Friday that he has had talks with Kankakee County officials about possibly forming a new health department serving Iroquois and Kankakee counties.
"We're going to look at anything that's available to us to get out of this mess," Copas said. "If the Ford County Board is that impressed with Mr. Corbett and all the problems we have because of him, if they're that impressed, then if you like him, you can sure keep him."
Bowen, meanwhile, said Friday that he does not want to disband the agency but "it sounds like it is going to be forced on us."
"It's concerning what the outcome is going to be — what type of care we're going to be able to provide our population," Bowen said.
But Copas said that Bowen had a different attitude about the proposal when the two met earlier this month. Copas said that Bowen told him he would prefer to split up the agency and have a combined health department serving Ford and McLean counties.
"If it was up to him, he said, it would be a done deal already," Copas said. "So I said, 'Fine, I'm leaving this up to you. Do you want to bring it up to your board and I'll bring it up to mine? And his exact words were, 'Absolutely.'' So I brought it up to my board yesterday."
Bowen did not immediately return a call seeking a response to Copas' claim.
According to a state law governing multi-county health departments, the department may be discontinued in one of two ways: by resolution of the county board or county boards; or through a referendum initiated by petition.
If a majority of the votes cast in any county is for discontinuance, the board of health must proceed immediately to close up the affairs of the department, the law says.
Neither county board is prepared to vote on the matter yet, but both boards are expected to discuss the issue further at their July meetings. The Ford County Board meets at 7 p.m. July 8 at the county jail in Paxton, while the Iroquois County Board meets at 9 a.m. July 9 at the Administrative Center in Watseka.
Bowen said the board of health will probably be involved, as well. The board of health meets at 7 p.m. July 15 at the Gilman-Danforth District Library in Gilman.
"This is going to have to be something the board of health will research and report back to us what our options are," Bowen said.
Bowen said recently that the majority of the Ford County Board disagrees with the Iroquois County Board's request to remove Corbett. The Iroquois County Board voted 15-1 this month to recommend the board of health remove Corbett in the "most expedient way possible."
Corbett has been a target of criticism by Iroquois County officials in recent months, most recently over a $123,000 contract the agency awarded to the husband of a health department employee for the installation of solar panels on the agency's offices.