Judge rules on city-county dispute over health department management
A district court judge has ruled that the state law does not prohibit a city commissioner from serving on the governing body of the City-County Health Department.
The ruling is from a lawsuit filed by the city in January regarding a dispute between the city and county on the makeup of the governing body of the health agency.
When the Legislature approved changes in 2021 to local health departments and health boards as a reaction to health protocols and restrictions implemented during the COVID pandemic, they created a requirement that health departments must have a designated “governing body,” instead of the Board of Health, which previously oversaw the health department and had the authority to implement health protocols during emergencies such as COVID.
The fundamental disagreement between the city and county is who can be on the governing body.
The county contends that it must be an elected body and that it should be the County Commission since they fund the majority of CCHD.
The city has argued that the elected bodies could designate the health board as the governing body and essentially maintain the status quo, or that the governing body could be comprised of the county commissioners with a city commissioner serving as a voting member.
In her decision, District Court Judge Elizabeth Best ruled on Aug. 29 that the law requires a governing body, which is identified by the interlocal agreement between the county and city.
Under the law, Best wrote that a city commissioner cannot be prohibited from serving on the governing body.
She wrote that the existing interlocal agreement established the Board of Health as the governing body and that agreement required that the city mayor serve on the board.
The city and county have been discussing the need for a new management agreement since the existing one was approved in 1975 and hasn’t been updated since.
Over the last year, the city and county have worked on an interim agreement to create a governing body to meet the legislative requirement before addressing the larger disagreements between the governments on the management of the agency.
They have disagreed over whether that body can be the existing health board or whether it should be an elected body, such as the county commission.
The county board of health was scheduled for a regular meeting on Sept. 7 but canceled that meeting and moved it to Sept. 12 when they will address the judge’s decision.