GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — Mesa County Commissioners along with the Public Health Board recently ratified a government agreement several critics say goes too far, but what is this new agreement all about? How is it different from the previous agreement? Could it potentially affect local health policy?

In total it’s a financial document.

Cody Davis, Mesa County Commissioner (R)

It potentially could not just slow down necessary rapid action… but it also undermines the actual expertise of people that have been trained to do public health.

Lori Freeman, CEO NACCHO

An updated intergovernmental agreement extends the Mesa County Commissioners’ ability to oversee county health board finances. Yet, County Commissioner Cody Davis told Western Slope Now the majority of the new agreement is no different than the one passed back in 2012, “This intergovernmental agreement that we have with the health department is not much different than the one we’ve had for the last 10 years.”

The new agreement between County Commissioners and the Mesa County Board of Health creates a framework for commissioners to review MCPH agenda items before they’re passed, and that’s the key difference from the 2012 agreement. (Read the 2012 agreement at the bottom of the page).

Here are the steps laid out in the new agreement:

  1. County legal, finance, and risk management teams review an MCPH agenda item.
  2. The health board reviews the item.
  3. If an agenda item requires authorization from county commissioners, they review it.
  4. If both boards approve the agenda item; it takes effect.

If the Commissioners determine an agenda item may not meet all county stipulations the new agreement allows them to step in and delay the passage of an agenda item. Then request a joint meeting to resolve the matter.

Stephen Daniels, the President of the Mesa County Public Health Board, said the board wanted to outline a specific process for review of financial documents. “Since I’ve been here in early July we’ve probably approved ten to twenty grants or contracts of one form or another, [and] not one comment has come back from the county commissioners about any of those,” Daniels told Western Slope Now. The new agreement only took effect in September, however, history shows the board of County Commissioners has approved MCPH contracts in the past.

The new agreement gives commissioners review over all contracts, despite the fact that they only fund 4% of the MCPH budget.

They only have 4% of the play. They have to some degree a complete veto over the budget if they don’t like what the county health department or county board of health is doing.

Mark Johnson, Chief Medical Officer for Jefferson County Public Health

Mark Johnson is currently the Chief Medical Officer for Jefferson County Public Health but previously was the Executive Director for Jefferson County Public Health for 33 years. During that time Johnson helped create the 2008 law that serves as the formation for the county public health system we have in Colorado today.

Over the course of our interview, Johnson pointed out that after Jeff Kuhr’s resignation, the County Commissioners were able to pick a brand new Public Health Board, “One of [the more] unfortunate things that seem to have happened in Mesa County is that after the arrangement was made with Jeff Kuhr the Board of Health resigned which then essentially gave the county commissioners free rein to put in a totally new Board of Health.”

Lori Freeman is the CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. She tells Western Slope Now the trend of heightened oversight over Public Health ramped up following the COVID-19 pandemic—and it’s not just in Mesa County.

We have a case, for example, in Michigan right now where the county commissioners are attempting to fire a local health officer and reduce their budget at the same time.

Lori Freeman, CEO NACCHO

According to an Associated Press investigation, a Michigan-based group that attempted to sue Ottawa County over mask mandates won elections and gained control of the board of county commissioners. Once elected, they attempted to fire a public health official and slash public health’s budget in half.

What happened in Ottawa County, Michigan doesn’t guarantee Mesa County Commissioners or Public Health will drag their feet during the next pandemic, let politics influence policymaking, or lead to retaliation, but it’s something worth keeping a close eye on because its happened before and could happen again.

Things changed dramatically in 2020 when covid came in. What happened was a number of people [found out] how theoretically how powerful public health was. We could close schools, we could close businesses, we could require face masks mandates, we could require immunizations to go to school. This had been in the laws for years

Mark Johnson Chief Medical Officer for Jefferson County Public Health