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Incoming health board files injunction to halt asset transfer

Current board says district closeout will continue as planned
by: Tyler Graf Members of the current Columbia Health District Board at a recent meeting.

Less than a month before the Columbia Health District's reins are passed to a new board of directors, the current board is faced with another setback as it tries to set in motion the eventual dissolution of the special district.

Members of the board-elect filed an injunction last week in Columbia County Circuit Court that would require the current board to refrain from transferring its assets to the county.

The injunction comes as the current board attempts to move its remaining money and property, including Public Health's Gable Road office, to Columbia County by July 1. That work is considered a precursor to dissolving the district outright in September.

The transfer of health district assets has angered the incoming directors, who feel the current board is prematurely usurping their ability to conduct business, such as performing a promised audit of the health district's financial records, once they take office on July 1.

During the meeting's proceedings, health district opponent Nancy Whitney served the current board's directors with the injunction. That orchestrated event added some theater to an otherwise rote public meeting, at which the current board voted on two resolutions to move forward with transferring oversight of public health to the county.

As CHD Chairman Jay Tappan read the second resolution aloud, Whitney got up from her seat and slowly handed each director a two-page injunction. 'You've been served,' she said.

Tappan continued to read the resolution. None of the board directors commented on the injunction lying in front of them. Upon adjournment, board directors left the injunctions neatly arrayed on the table.

Board directors will continue to close out the district as planned, Tappan said.

'As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't hold anything up,' he said after the meeting.

Brady Preheim, owner of Preheim Computers and Whitney's nephew, drafted the injunction.

The district's actions - including the planned liquidation of public health's Gable Road office, where the health district's files are stored - lack transparency and are unfair to the board elect, he said.

'There is no need for the actions [of] the county or the CHD to take place,' Preheim wrote in an email. 'There is nothing magic happening July 1. In a democracy, we have smooth transitions after an election.'

Closing out the health district's accounts and transferring its assets to the county are the first steps in moving oversight of the Public Health Authority to another agency, a requirement to keep health services intact after the planned dissolution.

If district residents vote to dissolve the CHD in September, as proposed under the current dissolution arrangements, the county will become the district's trustee.

But health district opponents say they still plan to perform an audit, and the injunction is the first step in seeing that happens.

'I think [transferring assets] is all about trying to stop an audit,' Preheim said. 'And, the harder they work to stop the audit, the harder I will work to make sure it happens.'