The Board of Health for the Southeast Utah Health Department (SEUHD) offered environmental health director Bradon Bradford the position of health officer during an emergency meeting Oct. 20. Although his hire must be formally approved by the three counties’ governing bodies, this move potentially marks the end of a six-month search for a permanent health officer and the possible beginning of a compromise to keep the district together, according to local representatives.
Grand County Council Chairperson Jaylyn Hawks — who also serves as a representative to the SEUHD Board of Health — called Bradford’s hire “the first step” to keep the three-county district remaining together.
In September, Carbon and Emery counties each passed resolutions to leave SEUHD by year’s end if they could not work out issues they say related to the Board of Health, including the hiring process of a new health officer.
Now, pending the approval of the three counties, Bradford will helm the SEUHD at a compensation rate of $92,000 per year “with an $8,000 increase every year for three years,” according to a motion by the board.
“We offered the position of SEUHD health officer to Bradon Bradford, pending ratification by the three counties’ legislative bodies,” Hawks said. “He accepted and that is the first step of the district remaining intact.”
Earlier this month, the three participating counties discussed the future of the SEUHD in a closed-door meeting. All counties were instructed by Carbon County’s deputy attorney, Christian Bryner, who also serves as legal counsel to the Board of Health, to bring “less than a quorum” to attend.
Hawks, as well as council members Curtis Wells and Patrick Trim, represented Grand County during the private meeting.
In a report to the council Oct. 17, Wells said Grand County’s message to “keep the district together” came across to both Carbon and Emery counties.
“I thought we successfully delivered a strong message that we wanted to keep the district together,” Wells said. “I thought that that was very well received by both Carbon and Emery and especially well-received by Emery County.”
According to Wells, Grand County agreed that Carbon County, representing over half of the SEUHD population, should have more representation on the Board of Health.
Carbon, Emery, and Grand counties currently have equal representation on the board, with one elected official and two citizen members representing each county.
“We talked about having a lesser number of board members in the district but to have two board members from Grand and Emery and three for Carbon so that the little guys have checks and balances over Carbon in the future,” Wells said.
Emery County Commissioner Kent Wilson, who also serves on the board, is not concerned by the new potential makeup of the board. Wilson says all representatives must think of the district as a whole when making decisions.
“Everybody on that board is looking out for the good of the whole. To me, we should be there looking out for all the residents of all of the counties,” Wilson said. “Giving [Carbon County] an extra vote doesn’t bother me, because everybody’s mission should be the same.”
However, Wilson said that Emery and Grand will watch Carbon County carefully, making sure they do not become “too greedy” in the potential new structure of the SEUHD.
“At some point, if they’re too greedy with that mentality, at some point Grand and Emery are going to hand them a check and say ‘take care of our health care needs. You have all the control, you have all the leadership, so we won’t waste our time showing up to the meetings,’” Wilson said. “[Carbon County] assured me it’s not about power, it’s just because they have more responsibility.”
Wilson acknowledged Grand County’s concessions to keep the district together, which also include an agreement to appoint two new representatives to the board this January.
“I feel like Grand County came to the table and made quite a few concessions,” Wilson said. “Carbon County accepted those and we’re moving forward. I want to heal wounds.”
According to Wells, the “proof” as to whether the SEUHD can move forward will come in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining “reasonable and rational updates” to the bylaws in advance of a more formal interlocal agreement for the counties to consider.
“I think ultimately the proof’s in the pudding and the pudding is this MOU that’s to be generated,” Wells said. “I’ve reiterated to that board room and other Carbon County commissioners that we made some very favorable terms and we expect that to be returned. This MOU we hope is reasonable. And so we’ll see how that goes.”
But Hawks says Grand County has yet to see that MOU, which she expected to be drafted by the board’s attorney shortly after the Oct. 6 commissioner and council member meeting.
“Our three council members left the commission/council meeting with the understanding that [Bryner] would draw up a simple MOU that outlined the areas of concern that the three counties would address as legislative bodies,” Hawks said. “We’ve waited for two and half weeks for that agreement and have not seen anything.”
Instead, Hawks said Carbon County Commissioner and board representative Jake Mellor “made it clear” during the emergency board meeting Oct. 20 that the new health officer would pen an interlocal agreement.
“So basically, it will be written before the three commissions/councils have had a chance to weigh in on the specifics of the terms that we had agreed to discuss beforehand,” Hawks said.
The Times-Independent contacted Mellor for this story. He was asked several questions by email related to the future of the health district and the interlocal agreement between the counties.
Responding by email, Mellor said The Times-Independent has “faulty information” and said to “watch for future press releases.”
Mellor did not respond to The Times-Independent’s subsequent requests for further explanation.
Hawks said that she “is fairly certain” the three counties will stay together as a health district. However, without a memorandum of understanding or an interlocal agreement yet in place coupled with the knowledge that Carbon and Emery counties still could withdraw from the district, she said she has some reservations.
“Carbon County has not made any move to rescind their motion to withdraw from the district,” Hawks said. “I would feel more comfortable if I had some idea of the concessions that Carbon County is bringing to the table.”
Bryner did not respond to requests for comment regarding the MOU or the draft interlocal agreement as of press time.
However, Bradford told The Times-Independent that Bryner still plans on drafting an MOU that indicates “that we are working on the interlocal agreement and the bylaws” for the three counties.
“In the meantime, I will work on a draft interlocal agreement because the board instructed me to and I feel that it is important for each county to feel comfortable that we have a set of new guidelines in place as soon as possible,” Bradford said.
Bradford said current drafted changes to the interlocal agreement mainly address the change in the amount of representatives from each county. He added that he would work closely with Bryner before presenting a draft to the three counties.
“In any case, with any of the potential changes to the agreement, I’m going to present the counties with reasonable options for each set of circumstances and let them determine exactly how they wish it to look,” Bradford said.