, Newburyport, MA


November 18, 2012

Board of health complaints are handled like this

To the editor:

For the past several months, the Salisbury Board of Health has been repeatedly told that complainants are appealing the town’s BOH decisions re State Sanitary Code Enforcement to the state BOH and that the town BOH had better agree or cost the town money for such appeals.

And, for the same several months, Salisbury Health Director Jack Morris has accurately replied that any appeal from a local Board of Health decision is not to the state Board of Health but rather to superior court — and that the town’s BOH has repeatedly and consistently prevailed in Superior Court.

Recently, Director Morris’s statement of the law was confirmed.

On Nov. 3, four out of five members of the Salisbury Board of Health attended a BOH Workshop-Training in Marlborough. The training hosted several excellent speakers.

At that workshop, and for the record, I asked attorney Cheryl Sbarra, counsel for Mass. Assoc. of Health Boards, why appeals from local BOH decisions go to superior court rather than to the state BOH.

She replied that under MA General Laws, when the local BOH acts, it acts as an arm of the state because it was instituted as an agent for the state. In effect, the two boards are one and the same. If the state BOH overruled the town BOH, the public would have a house divided among itself.

Also, the rationale for such local autonomy: the Legislature believes that health problems are best handled by the involvement of local community officials who are familiar with local conditions.

And so, when the state BOH receives a complaint about local BOH enforcement, it sends the complaint back to the local BOH. It does that because the next step from the local BOH is superior court.

The Rev. Robert J. Gallagher


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