Fayetteville council votes to continue Board of Health meetings

Dr. Marti Sharkey, the city’s public health officer, speaks during a City Council meeting in June. / Fayetteville Government Channel

City Council members on Tuesday agreed to continue operation of the city’s Board of Health and the volunteer city health officer position.

The board was revived last June to meet regularly with Dr. Marti Sharkey, the city’s appointed public health officer, to advise officials on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. The city dissolved the board in 2018 after not having an agenda item for over a year.

A section of the revival resolution called for a review of the board after the governor ended his decree of a pandemic emergency. That decree expired in May, so the council this week was required to discuss whether to dissolve, reconstitute, or repurpose the board.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan said he thinks it’s clear that the board should continue operating since the virus is still a problem. He also asked that the council not attach a new timeline for further review.

Council Member Teresa Turk agreed, and said with the recent resurgence of COVID-19 in Arkansas, there will continue to be issues that need to be addressed locally.

Active cases in Arkansas have increased 172% over the last 30 days. The state reported 1,707 active cases on June 6, and yesterday announced that active cases are now at 4,645.

The state’s vaccination rate is also lagging, and is ranked 48th in the country with just 34% of the population being fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times national vaccine tracker.

In Arkansas, cities can create their own boards of health that have important powers during epidemics. Other duties may be taken up by the board if its members believe it’s necessary for public health.

Council Member D’Andre Jones offered an amendment to add to the board’s scope of duties. In recognition of the council’s unanimous declaration that racism is a public health crisis, Jones suggested the council direct the board to take up equity issues in public health, and other health deficiencies and disparities.

“Evidence-based health information should be clearly and proactively communicated to the public to combat the constant assaults on healthcare access for transgender Arkansans, Washington County women, and Americans who qualify for public assistance,” said Jones, adding that the board should “apply their attention and expertise…to the goal of improving equitable public health outcomes for underinvested populations, and to adopt or recommend such rules, regulations, and recommendations as appropriate to advancing that goal.”

The amendment and the amended resolution passed by a vote of 7-0 on Tuesday. Council Member Sloan Scroggin was not present.