By KayLynn Roberts-McMurray
The Ely Times
Chairman of the County Commission Richard Howe recessed the commission meeting last week to convene the special meeting of the County Public Health meeting.
With Dr. David Byun’s resignation the prior week, several agenda items were created to accept Byun’s resignation, approve to recruit for a new public health officer, and discuss compensation for the position.
Howe asked if Byun was on the phone and then asked District Attorney Mike Wheable, “Who’s running this part of the meeting Mike, me?”
Wheable, explained to Howe that Byun was no longer chairman of the board of public health, and that Howe would be designated acting chairman of the board until the position is filled.
During public comment, City of Ely Mayor Nathan Robinson spoke reiterating to the health board that the city is very interested in the county getting another health officer and offered the city’s help.
“If there is something we can help with that, with the CARES money,” Robertson said. “I know the council is going to be talking about that tomorrow.”
A letter was read into record, by County Clerk Nichole Baldwin. The letter was from White Pine County resident Melissa Crump, who explained the loss the community had due to Byun’s resignation. Part of the letter stated, “The actions of county commissioner Ian Bullis in regards to the public health officials’ recommendations are completely unprofessional and do not represent White Pine county in the way an elected official should.
“The number of COVID cases will only rise, as Ian Bullis publicly calls for unsafe measures, if not corrected.”
The board approved Byun’s resignation unanimously and moved onto the next agenda item, which was to approve compensation and examine funding sources for the Public Health Officer position.
Howe sought guidance from Wheable on how they should set a dollar amount.
“I think it’s worth talking about what the compensation should be,” Wheable said. “We have to figure out what we have in contingency and hope that we get reimbursed under the CARES Act. We definitely don’t have a funding source for this, but it is extremely important. If you want a qualified public health officer, you are going to have to pay for it, because ain’t nobody interested anymore.”
Howe asked if they could come up with a reasonable amount. Wheable reminded the commission that CARES is a reimbursement system. “We have to find an actual funding source first, do some financial maneuvering.”
Wheable said, “So everyone knows, it was $100 a month. Byun was doing it as a service, and that was fine until the pandemic hit, then it became a full time job. You had Byun serving as a doctor and public health officer, serving several hours a day. He was calling, doing tracing, consulting with the county, with the hospital, drafting regulations, at all hours of the night, sometimes, 12 hours a day.
“Politically it’s very touchy because the public health officer is subject to scrutiny, political questions. You’re probably gonna have to think about a six-month short-term contract, appointment at $50,000 to $80,000 honestly.”
Commissioner Travis Godon agreed with Wheable reminding the board that someone in this particular field is paid $10,000 to $20,000 a month.
Ian Bullis, county commissioner, suggested the compensation have stipulations that the amount of compensation wouldn’t carry on over time.
Howe asked Elizabeth Frances, finance director, what kind of funding they had to work with. Frances explained there was money in contingency, and that they have CARES funding, but that was the only two options they had.
“I would remind you that the CARES act funding is only reimbursable to December, and if this carried on to January. CARES act funding will not be applicable unless there is some kind of restriction,” Frances said.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Pyle explained that the statutory scheme requires a board to appoint a health officer by January 2021, noting it may be helpful to fill the vacancy with the CARES money and examine it in the new year.
Howe asked Frances if they could set a contingency up to Jan. 1 that the position would not exceed $25,000 from now to the end of the year, Frances agreed that the board could do that.
Howe made a motion for the dollar amount not to exceed $25,000 to appoint a new public health official from now until the end of the year.
It appeared as though Godon felt differently as he questioned Howe’s motion. Godon suggested $50.000 til Jan. 1, citing people in this particular field made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Wheable agreed, saying he didn’t believe economically that $25,000 for a six-month contract was going to do it, but if that was the motion, they could try it and come back in two weeks to see what interest they received.
Bulis agreed with Godon that $50.000 sounded more appropriate.
“My concern, unfortunately I think, this is going to get worse, and require more hours, so I think this individual needs to be paid higher, I see it getting worse, and that individual could resign in a month and we’ll be back in the same situation only with more of a major problem on our hands,” Godon said.
Bullis said, “I’d be comfortable doing $50,000 for the six months. We could reevaluate after that but we need to get this hole plugged, and get it going, it’s a tough job, Dr. Byun mentioned, he was you know, the stress was actually unhealthy for him to take this on so I think people should be really well compensated to step into that and I think if we can compensate them well enough to make it so that someone who really actually wanted to step up and do it, let’s get it done rather than waiting weeks.”
Commission Shane Bybee agreed, noting to get a qualified person $50,000 seemed adequate. “If you were in medical school, $30,000 is chump change.”
Godon made a motion not to exceed 50,000 at the time of Jan. 1 they will reappoint and reevaluate.The motion was approved unanimously.