“For me, everything related to public health starts with the family and protecting our family-friendly environment here in Douglas County.” — Luke Niforatos
“With a committee such as this, I hope to acknowledge the feelings that the citizens may be feeling and creating a path forward that builds hope and trust in our community.” — Katheryn Wille
“I believe this is a great move to have our own (Douglas County) health department splitting away from Tri-County.” — Mark Hampton
“Decisions have been made all over the country based on emotions, with little regard to what works best for one family may not work best for others. I would like to ensure any concerns about freedom, liberty and independence are part of any discussion.” — Jennifer Green
Among the people chosen by Douglas County commissioners to help them find their next public health solution are a local town council member, a former mayor, a health department attorney and a one-time leader of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Seven of the 11 appointees have had greater or lesser professional ties to a health-related field, with almost all of that experience coming from the business and administration side. None of the appointees has a hands-on medical background.
The board, formally created in an Aug. 10 meeting, will provide input to the commissioners regarding their future public health services. The board plans to have an initial recommendation by the end of the year.
The committee will “assist in evaluating the feasibility of transitioning to an independent, local public health agency for Douglas County,” according to the group’s bylaws.
The commissioners have been considering leaving their current agency, Tri-County Health Department, which provides public-health services to Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties, and forming their own health department for about a year. This board, along with a community health assessment and a public health improvement plan, are intended to aid in the process.
“We don’t have any preconceived ideas about what’s going to happen but we’re really reaching out to our community because we want them to advise us on the best steps going forward,” Commissioner Lora Thomas said in the meeting.
The 11 board members are: Doug Benevento, Luke Niforatos, Donald Parrot, Kevin Bracken, Jennifer Green, Mark Hampton, Katie Coleman, Kelsey Hall, Mary Beth Vasco, Kimberly Eloe and Katheryn Wille.
Five of the board members are politically active residents, including Benevento, a former school board member in Douglas County; Niforatos, affiliated with a political group focusing on marijuana policies; and Hampton, a leader of a local conservative group, according to the committee members’ applications acquired by Colorado Community Media.
After his time with CDPHE, Benevento served on the Douglas County School Board as part of the reform-minded movement, which supported vouchers, school choice and pay-for-performance for teachers. He also worked recently as the acting deputy administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Another appointee, Niforatos, is the executive vice president of a national political organization called “Smart Approaches to Marijuana.” The group “envisions a society where marijuana policies are aligned with the scientific understanding of marijuana’s harms,” and has a mission of reducing marijuana use, according to its website.
Bracken, who has served on the Castle Rock Town Council since 2018, has been vocal during the pandemic about his frustrations with Tri-County.
“I argued with the Tri-County Health Department based on the skewed data sets in and isolated information that was provided during these meetings,” he wrote in his application about regular Tri-County meetings regarding COVID-19. “Ultimately, Tri-County Health Department was not interested in adjusting their information, they were only interested in driving their own agenda.”
Bracken has worked as a salesperson for medical equipment and pharmaceuticals in the past and currently works as a consultant helping hospitals find cost-saving measures, according to his application.
Green, who was Castle Rock’s mayor from 2016 to 2018, was also selected. Now a communications manager, Green wrote in her application that she “would like to ensure that freedom of choice is properly aligned with any decision-making for our community.”
One of the applicants chosen, Kelsey Hall, wrote in her application that she was “very concerned” about the idea of Douglas County forming its own health department.
“It would be significantly more costly to set up an independent agency so I would like to be sure that the issue is thoroughly studied to ensure that it is the best use of our taxpayer dollars and is necessary to meet the health needs of the community,” Hall wrote.
Hall works as the assistant county attorney for Jefferson County and serves as legal counsel for that county’s health department.
Other board members include Wille, who works as a social and emotional learning contractor for the Douglas County School District; Eloe, who is the manager for physician marketing at Children’s Hospital Colorado; Vasco, an environmental lawyer and emergency manager; and Parrot, the CEO of a health-care consultant firm who once represented Douglas County on Tri-County’s board of health “until that board became dysfunctional,” he wrote in his application.
Each commissioner nominated three board members and then two board members were selected at-large. The county declined to share information with Colorado Community Media on which commissioners selected which committee members. While a county spokesperson confirmed that the decisions were discussed in an Aug. 2 public work session, the minutes from that meeting did not include that information and it was not recorded.
A Colorado Community Media public records request for the more than 50 applications for the committee was denied.
“These are folks that are volunteering their time to help their neighbors, help us solve what has become if not a problem, definitely a real issue here in the community in terms of what is the public health solutions for Douglas County,” Commissioner George Teal said.
The committee’s meetings will be open to the public, with both remote and in-person access. The first meeting is set to occur before the end of the month and a full schedule with more details is planned to be released on the county’s website at douglas.co.us/newsroom.
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