2014-03-07 / Front Page

Health officer retained for price of cell

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Among several appointments made at its March 3 meeting, the South Portland City Council unanimously rehired Stephen Fox to a three-year term as health officer for the city, obtaining his services for just the cost of a cell phone.

According to City Manager Jim Gailey, Fox, who retired in November as an assistant fire chief with the city, asked to stay on as health officer, a role he has held since 2008. However, Fox agreed to forego the $1,800 annual stipend he previously received, asking only that the city reimburse the cost of his cell phone, a fee Gailey said runs to “about $50 a month.”

“I’ve known Stephen Fox for close to 25 years now and he’s excellently qualified for this position,” said Councilor Tom Blake, also a retired city firefighter. “He’s an active paramedic and he’s an active nurse, in addition to being a retired deputy chief of our fire department. He has an excellent handle on the health of our community.”

Like a sealer of weights and measures, a health officer is a fairly archaic position. The post dates to 1885, when the Maine Legislature authorized the creation of local boards of health. These boards had wide latitude to shut down theaters, concert halls and other public gathering spots, and to isolate individuals during outbreaks of disease. Many boards exercised these powers with impunity during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which killed about 5,000 people across Maine.

However, the following year, in recognition of the fact that combating influenza by more than 500 independent health boards had been a mixed bag of results — some towns, for example, pointedly kept theaters open to draw business when neighboring municipalities shut theirs down — the Legislature transferred statewide health guidance to the new Department of Health, the forerunner to today’s Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Only the local health officer post was retained in the transfer and, today, the role is largely limited to acting as a local liaison to the CDC and reporting local health conditions and disease outbreaks to the state. Many other statutory duties that remain on the books, such as inspecting and ordering the removal of public health threats, are largely redundant with duties of the code enforcement officer.

Also on March 3, Kevin Glynn of Huntress Avenue was reappointed to a five-year term on the South Portland Housing Authority, through March 2019. A city councilor from 1989 to 1998 and a state legislator from 1998 to 2006, Glynn has served on the board of directors since 2007. He currently is chairman of that board and represents it at the Greater Portland Housing Authority. Glynn also serves as vice president of the New England Regional Council of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

Meanwhile, new city resident Melinda Timpf, of Fort Road, was appointed to an unexpired term on South Portland’s Energy and Recycling Committee, through May 2015.

“Although I haven’t lived here long, I am setting down roots and I’m very excited to be part of a community effort in a place very close in size to the town I grew up in, in Rhode Island,” said Timpf, who works as a cook at El Rayo Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in Portland.

South Portland currently has an opening for a resident from District Two to serve on the Board of Assessment Review, to March 2016.

“We have over 100 volunteers on various boards and committees,” said Mayor Jerry Jalbert. “We could not run our city without our volunteers.”

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