METHUEN — The firing of the city’s health director and the privatization of its departments were two of the main issues at City Council debates last night.
Candidates split along district lines on key issues rather than contrasting with each other in the two separate debates.
Both debates were held at the MCTV studio off North Lowell Street last night. Those debates, along with the West District Council debate held Tuesday night, will air starting Friday. Debates for the mayoral race and the at-large council race will air live tonight starting at 6 p.m.
In the Central District debate, incumbents Jamie Atkinson and Lisa Yarid-Ferry said they voted against eliminating public health director Brian LaGrasse, while challenger Jack Cronin, a former City Councilor, said he “was surprised when the position was cut.”
Community development director William Buckley has assumed some of the health director’s responsibilities, but Cronin said a health director has certifications a community development director, whose department covers building, economic development and health issues, does not have.
Ferry said the city has to prove that the department can still handle health issues. “I believe that if there was a public health emergency, we should revisit hiring a public health director,” she said.
Atkinson said the cut “left a poor taste with the citizens of Methuen” and that Buckley does not have the specialized training needed for a public health director’s job.
“The community development director is working three to four hours a day on health issues he doesn’t have the education for,” Atkinson said.
In the East District debate, the candidates, including two incumbents who voted to cut LaGrasse, said the position was not needed.
“It was redundant in the department,” said Councilor Ron Marsan. “We don’t need a director watching a director.”