FRAMINGHAM – Mayor Yvonne Spicer said last night’s City Council vote to approve her nominee for City of Framingham Health Director “potentially jeopardizes the health & safety of the Framingham.”
The 11-member City Council voted last night 4-7 not to hire Charles to become the City’s health director starting Monday, June 21 at a starting salary of $123,000 a year. As the vote was coming in the 4th year of the Mayor’s 4-year term, the nominee needed 8 votes to start.
Voting in favor of Charles was District 2 City Councilor Cesar-Stewart-Morales, District 3 City Councilor Adam Steiner, District 7 City Councilor Margareth Shepard, and District 9 City Councilor Tracey Bryant.
Charles has worked in public health for the last 18 years, most recently working for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service Office in Raleigh, where she identified innovative models of care and collaboration in underserved areas.
“This is quite disappointing,” said Mayor Spicer in a phone interview with SOURCE this afternoon. “given the fact that this woman had tremendous skill sets” and “certainly came highly recommended” with an “unanimous vote from the board of health.”
Mayor described the Council’s vote as “quite short-sighted” and “quite detrimental.”
Charles would replace Dr. Sam Wong who stepped down from his position in December 2020.
Mayor Spicer she she was “very happy to see Dr. Wong has rebounded” and “retained his health.” Wong recently accepted a position with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health. She is happy he will continue in a “professional manner” in a position “that he loves.”
There were 11 applicants for the position of City of Framingham Health Director, said the Mayor.
A couple of Councilors said they would be in favor of DePalo as director, including District 4 City Councilor Mike Cannon and District 6 City Councilor Phil Ottavianni Jr. but interim Health Director Alex DePalo, the City of Framingham Assistant Health Director, did not apply.
Of the 11 applicants, Mayor Spicer told SOURCE only three of them met the minimum qualifications for the “leadership position.”
“Eight were not qualified for the position,” said Mayor Spicer.
Asked if Dr. Wong’s departure and the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the number of applicants.
Mayor said Dr. Wong is highly-regarded in this state “and that may have had an influence on the fact that we had very few applicants.”
“This puts Framingham in an unfortunate light,” said Mayor Spicer.
Interim Health Director DePalo has been leading the department since the start of 2021.
Under the charter, she can only serve a maximum of 180 days in the temporary role. That 180th day is fast approaching.
SOURCE asked the Mayor what next after the Council’s Tuesday night vote.
“Next step is to process this,” she said.
“The next step is to look at the health of department. Because as you know and you have reported, you have seen them running a mile a minute” during this pandemic. The mayor said the department can not continue at that same level going forward, and do it without a person at the helm ,makes it very challenging.”
Councilors said last night that while Charles was highly-educated and an expert in health policy and research, they did not feel she was a good fit for the City of Framingham.
The Council unanimously approved the Mayor’s nomination of the City’s new Police Chief Lester Baker in 2020 and did vote unanimously to approve the nomination of the City’s first-ever Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer Maritsa Barros in 2021.
The City Council also unanimously approved Blake Lukis as DPW Director in summer of 2020 and Michael Dutcher as Fire Chief in 2020.
Mayor Spicer used a selection committee to help her narrow the 11 applicants for the Director post. The selection committee included Mayor Spicer; Human Resources Department Director Dolores Hamilton; Chief Diversity, Equity; and Inclusion Officer Dr. Maritsa Barros and; Board of Health chair Gillian Carcia, Board of Health member Dr. David Moore and Board of Health member Laura Houseman.
SOURCE filed an Open Meeting Law violation with the City of Framingham on May 24, as all three members of the Board of Health served on the selection committee, and the Board of Health never posted any meetings, not even executive session meetings. A quorum of a Board of Commission should not meet without posting notification 48 hours in advance, even if the meeting will be closed to the public.
Earlier today, the City’s attorney issued a ruling that it did not violate the Open Meeting law for all three health board members to meet behind closed doors and never post a meeting. The news outlet plans to appeal that decision to the State.
All three members of the 3-member Board of Health spoke last night and gave their support to Charles as the City’s next health director to the City Council.
Board of Health member Housman said she has served on three search committees for Framingham Health Director, and Charles was one of the best applicants she has ever seen.