Editor's Note: This letter, originally addressed to the editor of the Bernardsville News, was sent to TAPinto Somerset Hills for publication.
Sometimes your paper just doesn’t get the news right. Your story on the recent activities of the Bernardsville Board of Health proves the point. Contrary to your reporting, Mike Monica and I were not "booted" off the Board. If your reporter had attended any of our open meetings, he would have heard that we decided months ago not to seek reappointment to the Board of Health. We were not "booted off," as your tabloid headline stated. Plain and simple: we did not want to be re-appointed because our work to realize real savings and more comprehensive services for the residents and taxpayers of Bernardsville were being -- put charitably -- foolishly dismissed by the Mayor and Borough Council.
We were addressing and accomplishing things that had been ignored and neglected for years. Most prominently, we discussed at length the three-year contract the Bernardsville Board of Health had with Bernards Township to provide minimal services (administered by a group of seven individuals) at a current cost of close to $100,000. In January 2016, we learned that Bernardsville could obtain better services from Somerset County (with experts in all fields of public health and with a staff of 21) at a cost of $56,694.
Terminating the Board's contract with Bernards Township in favor of hiring Somerset County to provide more and better services and saving $44,000 sounded like a good and prudent way to do business for the benefit of the taxpayers of Bernardsville. Indeed, as suggested at one of our meetings last year, which your reporter did not attend or ask about, this saving could have been used to restore the hours the library has been forced to eliminate this year due to budget constraints.
Your article claims that Councilman Jeff DeLeo justifiably wanted to fill the Board of Health with "doctors, nurses and other medical experts." That is nonsense. Mr. DeLeo attended less than a handful of Board meetings and, not surprisingly, displayed no grasp of what the Board is charged to do. The members of the Board don't administer any health services. They don't conduct physicals or examinations. The Board contracts for those services. Hence, the Board of Health needs experienced persons who have a track record of success in business strategy and contract negotiations. They should be looking for the broadest possible services at the lowest possible prices. Bernardsville certainly doesn't have that now.
We recently were told that the Borough Clerk does not work for the Board of Health. Unfortunately, the Mayor forgot to tell your paper that the Clerk's office has been providing those services for as long as anyone can remember and resumed providing them as soon as our terms expired. This might have been a case of the Mayor "taking his bat and ball and going home" since we weren't doing exactly what he wanted (since we didn't know what he wanted).
You also need to know that the Bernardsville Board of Health is not "semi-autonomous" as you reported. There is nothing "semi" about the Board. It is an autonomous body pursuant to New Jersey law. The Borough Code reinforces that autonomy. See Section 2-36 of the Borough Code. Indeed, the Code states that the Board shall "adopt rules and regulations for its own government and shall select a President from among its own members and shall fix the salaries of the Health Physician and Sanitary Inspector and clerk." The Borough Code also requires the Board to "appoint a Register of Vital Statistics."
Prior to our meetings in the last months of 2017, the Board of Health had no rules and regulations; it did not have a President, and had not appointed a Register of Vital Statistics. It appears that this lack of action has persisted for decades. You can only do nothing for so long. What we did accomplish in two months of meetings in late 2017 was extraordinary. Some of our work was 90 years overdue. It happened due to the fortitude and hard work of three members of the Board of Health with little or no assistance from either the two other members of the Board, who missed all of those important meetings or any Borough elected officials, attorneys or employees.