EDITORIAL: Expanding Marblehead’s Board of Health makes good sense

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous iteration of this editorial incorrectly stated the number of drug-related fatalities in Marblehead in 2022. There was one.

In a welcome moment of harmony, the fractured Marblehead Board of Health recently voted unanimously to seek to expand its elected seats from three to five members. We strongly endorse the board’s prudent proposal to bring the matter before the Town Meeting in May.

Adding two seats makes good sense considering the complex, pressing issues within the board’s authority. As extensively reported by the Marblehead Current, meetings too often degenerate into palpable distrust and tension among members.

The aging Marblehead Transfer Station exemplifies these challenges. Its long-delayed, $1.6 million renovation has faced years of planning disputes, neighborhood opposition, permit delays and cost overruns in the thousands of dollars.

New member Tom McMahon’s election signaled a public desire for tighter oversight. Yet his accusatory approach frequently triggers tension aimed at Chair Helaine Hazlett and member Joanne Miller and Public Health Director Andrew Petty over everything from sticker placements to signing off on invoices.

The board also oversees pressing public health matters like restaurant inspections, septic permits and Marblehead’s worsening drug problem.

In 2022, Marblehead had eight overdoses and a fatality. This year has seen eight overdoses, and two were fatalities.

Acrimony hinders progress on offering treatment, prevention and community support. Additional seats would bring critical new perspectives on these complex, long-term challenges.

More diversity of insights and expertise could balance McMahon’s intensity against Hazlett and Miller’s caution. With five members focused on issues over personality conflicts, residents would gain an effective forum to press for action.

Some may argue against what they see as “big government” expansion. But the board’s critical role in safeguarding Marblehead’s well-being warrants wider representation and accountability. Moreover, larger regulatory elected bodies in town already have five members, from the Select Board to the Planning Board. Greater membership would enable smoother transitions amid turnover.

With staggered elections, no more than two or three seats would change hands annually. Retaining institutional knowledge would become more likely during major initiatives like the Transfer Station overhaul.

This modest expansion admittedly requires extensive process at Town Meeting and the State Legislature before taking effect. But the long-term benefits make it worthwhile.

The Current Editorial Board
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The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.

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