Board of Health Advocates Nonpartisan Appointments

WHEELING — The Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health is seeking to have appointments to health boards be made nonpartisan.

The local board passed a resolution this week asking the West Virginia Legislature “to remove the requirement that political party membership be one of the determining factors for County Board of Health membership eligibility.”

Board members agreed to send their resolution to the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health and to all county health boards in the state to seek their support for a change in state law.

In seeking the change, the Wheeling-Ohio County board contends that “public health and, therefore, Board of Health decisions are nonpartisan” and “there is no evidence of Board of Health decisions being made based on political party affiliation.”

Currently, the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health is composed of three Republicans and three Democrats. The practice has been in place for many years, officials said.

Under state law, a political party’s membership on a health board can exceed another party’s representation by only one member. For instance, a five-member board could have three people from one party and two from another party.

However, a proposal to appoint a member of a third party or an independent voter to a board would complicate the issue. The local board members indicated they are unsure how the “plus-one” policy would be implemented if an independent or third-party member were named to the body.

Citing a further complication, board member Christian Turak said, “Being an independent is different than being part of a third party.”

Howard Gamble, administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, said, “In my eyes, there is still a requirement that you have people affiliated with a political party.”

Dr. John Holloway, board chairman, said, “Party affiliation should have nothing to do with board of health membership.”

Holloway said political party membership is “restrictive and irrelevant” to serving on a health board and deciding matters related to public health. He pointed out that seats on Wheeling City Council and the Ohio County Board of Education are nonpartisan positions.

The Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health has six members. Because of the board’s combined organization, Wheeling City Council and the Ohio County Commission each appoint three people to the board.

Gamble said several county health boards in West Virginia have only five members.

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