Health board concerns come to light

The ousting of Washington County’s health commissioner has brought to light some potentially troubling issues with the Washington County Board of Health.

The first? Their response to a public information request last week was concerning. When The Marietta Times requested the personnel file of former commissioner Dick Wittberg, board president Bruce Kelbaugh said he wasn’t sure if it would be provided. He put the matter down for a vote at a special meeting. Ultimately, the board did provide the file, as is required by law. However, the fact that the board president doesn’t seem well-versed in even the basics of open records laws is disconcerting. He’s the president of a county board overseeing a public agency. Public records training should be required. There is plenty of gray area in Ohio’s public records laws but access to a personnel file of a public employee isn’t one of them. Kelbaugh should have known this.

The second concern? Even though Kelbaugh said at a prior meeting that issues with Wittberg were documented, there was no such documentation in the file. Where is this documentation? If there were problems, they should be in the personnel file. The board is still remaining silent about why Wittberg was voted out, when the public deserves to know.

Lastly, the makeup of the board deserves a second look. While it’s intended to represent the entire county, currently each member is from the Belpre/Little Hocking area. A more well-rounded board, geographically speaking, might better serve the entire county. In fact, the Ohio Revised Code makes this point, spelling out that appointments should give “equal representation of all parts of the county.”

We would like to see the public attend more of these board meetings. It’s our right as a community to question this board about its practices. It’s our responsibility to hold our officials, elected and appointed, accountable. Let’s work together to do that.

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