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Social Commentary Writing

Being on the Board of Health

Onion Sets

Remarks delivered on a community panel
“Citizen Involvement in Local Government.”
Community Leadership Program
City Hall, Coralville, Iowa.
December 9, 2011

I believe a person makes a choice in life, to be part of society and influence what the future will be, or to be a citizen centered on making our way in a challenging world, protecting what we have, and nurturing the advantages of living in the United States. While not mutually exclusive, each can be a lifetime of hard work.

In 2004, after helping manage our rural public water and wastewater systems for almost ten years, I sought additional engagement in society and applied to the county supervisors for appointment to the board of health. Without reservation, and in every respect, my service on the board was good for me personally and I hope it contributed to society.

So what did we do? Besides the regular board meetings, there were other commitments. I tried to consider our life in society from a public health perspective, and work toward doing things that made sense while complying with a host of rules and regulations.

The board of health has oversight of the public health department and the meetings could easily be filled with tasks required by government such as approving the department budget, writing policy and other administrative work. We did do a lot of that while I was on the board.

But there were other things not written in the black and white of legal code. We made a decision about an indigent suspected of having tuberculosis, trying to respect his rights as a citizen, while protecting the public from a contagious disease. When the health department closed a restaurant near where I live, I listened when the owner called me at home and explained the financial strain our action created and the injustice he felt. During an in service day, I found myself responding to an outbreak of norovirus and spent the better part of a day speaking to parents about what their children had for lunch the previous day. All of this work was engaging.

It is hard to list any disadvantages about being on the board of health. When we sign up, there is an understanding that there will be both good and bad things along the way. In a way, it was all good.

I found three things particularly rewarding while I served on the board of health. First, there was the self-fulfilling feeling that I was giving something tangible back to our community. Second, the board provided a vehicle to study and present information about issues that impacted people’s lives. For example, I spoke about arsenic contamination in county water and about the Silurian aquifer. What was best was getting to know people in the community in a way I couldn’t have predicted. A sense of engagement in society was a significant benefit, one that keeps giving and for which I will always be grateful.

Thank you for attending today.

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