AYER – The Ayer Board of Health is again fully staffed following a joint vote of the sole remaining health board member and the five selectmen Tuesday night. Joining Mary Spinner on the Board of Health are former Acton health agent Heather Hasz and biomedical device consultant Pam Papineau.
Ayer selectman Frank Maxant recused himself from both votes, though Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said that Maxant had no obligation to do so despite his familial relationship with Papineau (a cousin) and a third candidate – Ruth Maxant-Schulz, who is Maxant’s sister.
Pontbriand explained that “unless selectman Maxant has a financial interest” in the outcome of the joint appointment, “he’s not in conflict of interest.”
Maxant, however, opted to sit out the votes unless his vote was needed to break a tie. That need never arose.
Save for Maxant’s recusal, Hasz was unanimously appointed, 5-0. Papineau was appointed, 4-1.
Before Papineau’s appointment, selectman Gary Luca suggested Maxant-Schulz be appointed. That motion failed on a 2-3 vote.
“For me, Ruth has run a couple of times,” said Luca. Maxant-Schulz has previously run unsuccessfully against Spinner for a seat on the board. Luca said appointing Maxant-Schulz’s would be a “natural progression.” Selectman Chair Jim Fay agreed.
But Spinner and selectmen Pauline Conley and Christopher Hillman disagreed. The motion to appoint Papineau immediately followed and easily passed despite Luca’s dissent.
The 3-member Board of Health was left without a minimum 2-member quorum when Margaret Kidder and Marilyn McMillan resigned on consecutive days in mid October. Hasz and Papineau will serve until the April election.
Kidder’s three year term was to expire in April. McMillan’s term was to expire in April 2014.
Hasz worked nearly 15 years in the Acton Health Department before leaving the public sector. “I miss the community involvement now I feel I had enough of a break.”
Hasz flirted with a run for selectmen last winter but pulled out of consideration to focus on family. Now she says she’s “happy to volunteer.”
“I have her resume and I know she can do the job,” said selectman Gary Luca.
Though he refrained from voting, Maxant did ask each candidate to discuss their opinion on ongoing enforcement actions taken against various properties targeted over their condition.
“I was in Acton but we dealt with the same issues,” said Hasz. “It’s always emotional – talking about an owner expending money they may or may not have.” But she maintained a health board member enforces “public health regulations promulgated thru public process. Regulations stand to protect overall public health. Sometimes it’s not nice and it’s not pretty.”
Papineau said she’d leverage her experience working within the parameters of drug regulations while working in the heavily regulated medical field. Papineau told Maxant she felt “woefully uninformed” about the targeted properties outside of newspaper reports. “I don’t know any of the people involved. I really don’t have a frame of reference.”
But Papineau said she agreed with Maxant in terms of ensuring “that the people in this town are dealt with fairly and that laws and regulations are enforced rather than opinions.” Regulations are both “a blessing and a curse,” said Papineau. “They can lead you to have to do some things that you may not want to do, may not be financially able to do, or may not want to do because you have a different frame of reference.”
Maxant-Schulz said her experience with the American Red Cross taught her how to “work with people in general, keeping them informed.” Maxant-Schulz answered her brother’s concerns by saying that she’d work to ensure “regulations are applied fairly, honestly and in an encouraging way – not just in a punitive way. That’s not a good law if it’s just the punishment phase.”
Hasz and Papineau must be sworn into office by the Town Clerk. The next Board of Health meeting is scheduled for Nov. 26.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.