Douglas County commissioners voiced dissatisfaction with a proposal made by Tri-County Health Department on a way to stay together during a Monday, Oct. 12 meeting, meaning that negotiations between the entities will continue.
Douglas County is set to break up with the health department in July 2021 after commissioners voted to send a formal letter of departure to the agency over the summer, citing a desire for more local control in public health decisions. Tri-County says that just a few weeks after that announcement, the county asked to begin negotiations to remain with the health department.
Since then, almost no information has been made publicly available regarding if the county will develop its own health department or remain with Tri-County.
Tri-County submitted the suggested “bylaw amendment” — which the organization hoped would appease commissioners’ concerns about local control — Oct. 2 and requested that the commissioners provide a response, county attorney Lance Ingalls said in the beginning of the meeting.
The proposal, which has not been made public or discussed in detail, is a product of ongoing meetings between Ingalls and a Tri-County attorney.
The Monday meeting, most of which was a private, executive session between the board and Ingalls, was announced Friday, Oct. 9.
“We need to talk about, in executive session, that bylaw change and whether that in fact meets Douglas County needs,” Ingalls said to the commissioners. “We’ve been asked to take a position … specifically whether that would get you to modify your statutory notice of withdrawal.”
After about an hour in the executive session, where no decisions are permitted to take place, the commissioners returned to the public meeting for about five minutes of discussion.
“I think we are encouraged by the ongoing conversations with Tri-County Health about maximizing local control,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said.
Commissioner Lora Thomas also hinted that the board was looking for something different before they’d be willing to overturn their decision to leave the health department.
“It sounds like there is room for more discussion in regards to governance so that Douglas County’s public health decisions involve local control,” she said. “I’ve been encouraged by the discussions that have taken place and look forward to more positive discussions.”
Board chair Roger Partridge echoed this sentiment.
“I also am encouraged to hear continued conversations around how can that be best achieved,” he said. “I believe the ongoing conversation will get us to that point. It’s wonderful to hear that we have a lot of dialogue going on.”
Ingalls summarized the board’s brief comments and asked if he was understanding their wishes correctly.
“What I’m hearing is ‘let’s keep the discussion going with Tri-County Health and see if we can get a little more,’” he said.
Partridge responded that all three commissioners were nodding in agreement.
The board gave no further direction to staff nor did they provide any more information when asked by Colorado Community Media.
Tri-County, which also represents Adams and Arapahoe Counties, responded in a statement through a spokesperson.
"These discussions are occurring with all three of our counties and we are working toward finding a solution that can benefit our entire jurisdiction as soon as possible since time is of the essence in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic," according to the statement from the agency. "This is a work in progress and we are not at a point that we can share details of the proposed ideas."
The commissioners voted to leave Tri-County Health Department July 9, one day after the board of health voted to implement a mask mandate for Douglas County. Then, July 10, the county sent a formal notice to Tri-County stating that the county would be separating from the health department in a year.
County commissioners have said that their motive for wanting to leave Tri-County Health was based on issues of local control, and not out of opposition to the mask order.
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