At a special meeting Monday, Grand Island City Council create a City Board of Health.
The board will have its first meeting at noon today to consider recommending a citywide mask mandate in response to increasing COVID-19 cases in the area.
If approved by the Board of Health, the recommendation will be brought to the City Council for action at 7 p.m. tonight.
The five-person Board of Health will be chaired by Mayor Roger Steele and include Teresa Anderson, Central District Health Department director; Dr. Rebecca Steinke, a family medicine specialist; Council President Mike Paulick and Police Chief Robert Falldorf.
The city is required to have a health board per state statute, City Administrator Jerry Janulewicz explained.
Approving its creation Monday allows the city to be in compliance with the state statutes.
The health board also will give the city the authority to put a mask mandate in place, which is an authority that the CDHD has not been allowed to exercise.
“If the governor would allow the Central District Health Department’s requirement for a mask mandate, we would not be here tonight or tomorrow,” council member Mitch Nickerson said.
Concerns were heard Monday from Grand Island residents.
Jay Vavricek, a local business owner and former Grand Island mayor, asked if the new board will be bound by local meetings law and open to the public, and if the board can be petitioned.
“Going forward, I think it would be wise to clear the fact that, is this a self-appointed board with the effect of making enforcements or regulations, or is it an advisory one as well?”
He added, “I believe in local control.”
The board itself will not have the authority to create a mask mandate, council members said. It can only offer a recommendation to the City Council.
Resident Adam Conlon questioned why a Board of Health was being created after one should have been in place, per statute, since 1962.
“Are you trying to absolve yourselves of any responsibility of enforcing a mask mandate on the people of Grand Island?” he asked. “People are going to remember who voted to put this in, and you all are going to put in people who will put in the agenda you want and not look at things objectively and fairly.”
Nickerson said the city is only complying with state statute.
“We’re not imposing this,” he said. “The state is telling us we should have had this in place and now we’re doing what we should have done. That’s really what we’re doing.”
Council member Chuck Haase suggested a city health entity did exist once, but then expanded into a city-county board and then three-county state agency, which took away authority from the city.
“It’s left this vacancy that we don’t have local control specifically for citizens of Grand Island,” he said. “That seems to me about how it happened.”
Council member Justin Scott was the sole vote against the creation of a Grand Island Board of Health.