Update: Since Gary was the one who made the motion..was there even a vote?
I expect that our friend Bill Shaner will write more/bettter/deeper about this, but I wanted to clarify some things about what’s been going on in the Board of Health this month, if only for myself.
At their meeting on Monday, February 7, the Board of Health voted 3-2 to rescind the city’s mask mandate, effective February 18.
On Friday, February 11, the city announced that Gary Rosen had not been sworn in as a member of the Board, and so the Board would meet again on Wednesday, February 16. Mr. Rosen had been one of the members who had voted in favor of rescinding the mask mandate. Without his being a member, the vote was 2-2 and did not pass.
Wait – can they do that?
You may notice that the City Council, the School Committee, and many other boards and commissions don’t have the same items on the agenda every time they meet. That’s because once a body votes on an item, they need to consciously decide to take it up again.
You may notice that at some meetings, a member requests that a vote [the body just took] be reconsidered. Do they want the vote to be overturned? No! But there is a rule of the Council that allows a reconsideration of a vote for a couple of days after the meeting. In order to stave off this possibility, a councilor will immediately request the reconsideration. (Note: ‘reconsider’ is VERY Worcester word and concept; you won’t find the same in Robert’s Rules.)
Then according to the Council rules, that item cannot be brought up again for 90 days.
The Board of Health’s rules mostly follow Robert’s Rules. Robert’s doesn’t have a 90-day delay, but it DOES require that a vote taken is permanent unless there’s a motion to recscind.
What is on the Board of Health agenda, though, isn’t a motion to rescind, but the same exact agenda item. There are no do-overs (in this way) under Robert’s Rules, and so, no, this isn’t the way this should be approached.
The vote was taken by a quorum of the board, and it didn’t pass (2-2). To vote on it again, someone needs to move to rescind the vote. That motion to rescind would need to pass a majority of the (current) board, and then there would be a vote on the item.
To answer the question – no, they can’t just do it the way things are on the agenda.
Why were things allowed to get this far?
It’s unclear why Gary Rosen was allowed to vote in the February 7 meeting.
At the board’s January meeting, he recused himself from voting because he hadn’t yet been sworn in. Technically, he wasn’t recusing himself, because, according to the M.G.L., he couldn’t perform any official duties.
Why Mr. Rosen didn’t “recuse” himself for the February 7 meeting is known only to him.
He found the time to appear on a talk show the following morning to discuss his vote, and certainly finds time for his own program.
He certainly knew, from his extensive experience in city government and from serving on various boards, what the requirements were.
The larger questions
When representatives of the Worcester Police Department initially declined to appear at the Board of Health – and took a full two months to have discussions with the Board of Health – there was no immediate response from the city administration to ensure that the WPD complied with the BoH’s request.
In this case, we have the city administration spinning into action to make sure that there is another vote (because the first vote didn’t go the way the city admin liked). In the case of the mask mandate, the two POC members voted against rescinding the order. The city administration is bending over backwards to make sure that their vote becomes a do-over. You can rest assured that if the situation were reversed, there would be no immediate action by the city administration – we’ve seen that with their lack of action when it came to holding the WPD to account.
Mr. Rosen was appointed to replace David Fort. The city manager appoints Board of Health members, and the City Council cannot vote to approve/deny these members. This is how we had a man of color replaced with a singularly unqualified person who couldn’t take time out of his busy schedule to get himself sworn in.
Let’s say the Board of Health votes contrary to their own rules (which mostly follow Robert’s); what would the course of action be? I honestly don’t know. There is no oversight by the City Council (who doesn’t appoint/confirm appointees), and the City Manager’s office is essentially running their agenda and the course of their current action.
The largest question of all, of course, is on what basis the Board of Health would rescind a mask mandate. Cases continue to be high; our vaccination rate has not notably increased. Indeed, we are at a better point now than we were a week ago to say: nothing has changed, and it may be once again getting worse. Is now the best time to put the most vulnerable among us at risk? It’s not, but that seems to matter little to the majority of the Board of Health.
(We could get into a larger discussion about indoor air quality, R values, how to encourage people to be vaccinated, etc.; but it seems as if all that has been left for the Board of Health are masks.)
What to do
I often find myself frustrated by government bodies, but I do recommend that those who want to listen and perhaps contribute can join the meeting Wednesday, February 16 at 6:30pm – Webex link.