The Fulton County Board of Health is planning to transition into a Georgia entity as part of a state mandate dating back to 2016.

House Bill 885, which was approved by the state Legislature in April of that year, repeals an existing law that created boards of health in all 159 Georgia counties. It calls for each county’s board of health to transfer into a state body instead. Fulton’s board of health is making that transition but first wanted to ensure its staff would not lose anything in the process.

“All staff with the board of health will be accepted by the state, at their salaries, with no loss of salaries, with the same job titles and same benefits,” Robb Pitts, the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ chair, said, adding some county facilities may also transfer to state use as part of the transition.

As part of the transition, Fulton will pay board of health employees $2 million a year total to ensure their pay and benefits, once funded by the state, would remain the same since the state pays less.

At its Dec. 16 recess meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board of commissioners was expected to approve a resolution to support the transition after adding it to the agenda. It had been held by the board of commissioners since its Sept. 2 meeting.

But after a lively discussion on the topic, a motion to hold the vote again made by District 4 Commissioner Natalie Hall and seconded by District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. failed by a 4-3 vote. District 6 Commissioner Joe Carn joined Hall and Arrington in voting yes, and Pitts plus Districts 1-3 Commissioners Liz Hausmann, Bob Ellis and Lee Morris dissented.

Fulton leaders speaking at the meeting said the resolution vote was delayed from September so the county could look at all the ways to make the transition as seamless and positive as possible, including providing the extra funding to keep employees’ pay and benefits the same.

Before and after the September vote to hold the resolution, board of health employees and others commented at nearly every meeting to say they disagreed with the county’s plan for the transfer.

“I’m disappointed the commissioners are considering the board of health transition,” Alice Samuels of Atlanta said at the Dec. 16 meeting.

Those commenting were upset with the lack of information Fulton was providing to workers. Hall said she’s received over 100 emails, texts and other messages from board of health employees and their friends and family members saying there was no communication between the county and the board of health’s workers about its transfer to the state.

Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director and one of the board of health’s leaders, said the employees were “really seeking certainty about their future” amid the transition.

“We wish we could have kept them in the loop all along; we tried every way but Sunday,” she said. “But we decided by far the best thing to do was to have a well worked-out plan between the county and the board of health. It took a long time, but we felt it was worth the wait. We found the best possible course to make this work.

“First, we’re keeping the board of health agile and efficient. Two, we will keep all employees whole and, three, (the board will) complete the legislative order to bring it in line with the other 158 counties in Georgia. There will be no break in services for our residents, and our employees will see no break in employment.”

After the vote to hold the resolution again failed, Arrington asked County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker, “So these employees won’t get the benefit of (Fulton’s) ICS (incremental compensation strategy) plan since it starts in July, right?”

After Perkins-Hooker said yes, an irate Arrington replied, “No ICS plan. Tell the truth, as you know it. … These people have been waiting 20 years for a bonus through the ICS and they won’t get it.”

Then, when the vote to approve the resolution came, it failed 3-2, with Ellis, Morris and Pitts saying yes, Hall and Arrington voting no and Hausmann and Carn absent. The resolution could be voted on again at the next meeting Jan. 6.

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