WTF Pinal County Board of Supervisors?

In a 3/2 vote on this past Wednesday, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors voted to reject a $3.4 million federal grant for improving vaccine equity. Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh (District 1), led the charge to deny the funding, questioning whether Pinal County had a need for a “vaccine equity coordinator”, which the grant mandated be established. The grant also funded vaccination efforts like mobile vaccine clinics. County Public Health Services District employees were stunned by the move with the director, Dr. Tascha Spears, saying “I just simply would like to note that our public health team is deeply disappointed”.

According to The Arizona Republic, the grant would have come from federal COVID-19 relief funds provided to the state health department. County health services employees commented that the $3.4 million would have funded efforts (over three years) to educate underserved populations about the COVID-19 vaccine and help provide vaccines in underserved communities.

During the hearing this past Wednesday, Cavanaugh asked Spears whether or not her office sought the grant or did they see the grant available and look for a problem? He went on to say that “The questions I’m getting from my constituents are, you know, we have Walgreens, Walmart, (uh, no…don’t believe there is a Walmart in your district Kevin), everybody knows that there are free vaccines”. Dr. Spears responded that Pinal County has many rural areas where folks are farther away from bigger chains like Walmart. Of course, Cavanaugh was not however, swayed by this logic, nor did he obviously care about how the homeless or disabled might access these commercial providers.

Although appearing surprised by Cavanaugh’s move in the hearing, supervisors Jeff McClure and Jeff Serdy voted with him to reject the funding. The chairman of the Board, Steve Miller and vice chair Mike Goodman voted against the rejection.

“It made no sense to turn this down” was the response former Arizona state health director Will Humble (now executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association), provided when asked about the Board’s action. As both Spears and Humble pointed out, the county qualified for the grant due to its social vulnerability index which included factors such as “the proportion of people with disabilities, unemployment rates and the number of single parent households”.

Cavanaugh though, was set on making this about disdain for the federal government saying, “The federal government, the best job they do, is wasting money”. He went on to say that, “this $3.4 million dollar grant would have provided one public health official here in Pinal County, a nurse. And the rest largely would have largely gone to some as yet unknown unnamed contractor”.

Well, let’s hope Kevin, that the the contractor is yet unknown and unnamed because I would expect government procurement rules would have been followed had the grant been accepted. Per A.R.S. 41-2533, that contracts must be decided via competitive sealed bidding (those under $100,000 in value have exceptions). Per A.R.S. 41-2561, Bid specifications are required to “promote overall economy for the purposes intended and encourage competition in satisfying this state’s needs and shall not be unduly restrictive”. Furthermore, under the competitive sealed bidding procedures, a state governmental unit must award a contract to the “lowest responsible and responsive bidder whose bid conforms in all material respects to the requirements and evaluation criteria” set forth in the invitation for bids. There are similar rules in federal procurement.

As a county supervisor, Cavanaugh should be very familiar with state procurement rules and therefor know it is disingenuous to make it sound like there would be no accountability for the grant funding if the Board had accepted it. There would of course be, unless Cavanaugh and his buddies didn’t properly fulfill their duties.

Speaking of fulfilling their duties, what were Supervisors Jeff McClure and Jeff Serdy thinking in voting with Cavanaugh to reject the $3.4 million? In an email afterwards, Serdy told AZFamily.com that he voted to reject the funding “in order to retain local control.” He went on to write “I’m not too concerned that our citizens don’t have access to the vaccine if they want it because it is now widely available for free”. McClure did not respond to the Arizona’s Family request for comment, nor did he respond to an email I sent him on the matter.

I should mention here, that I served on a school board with Jeff McClure for eight years and although there was much we didn’t agree on, I thought he was concerned about doing the right thing for our students and staff. His decision to reject this funding to improve Pinal County’s vaccination rate however, is definitely not doing the right thing for the people of Pinal County, which lags the state, at 56.3% and national at 61.5%, averages for vaccination with only 48.1% of those 12 and older fully vaccinated as of the Board’s vote.

And, according to former state health director Dr. Cara Christ, some of the federal vaccine dollars could go toward encouraging the continuance of routine school vaccinations that declined during the pandemic. “While we’re using that funding to ensure we are vaccinating in an equitable manner, we can use that funding to improve health equity in other arenas as well”, Christ told The Arizona Republic in July.

I don’t for a second believe Supervisors Cavanaugh, McClure and Serdy rejected the $3.4 million because it was the right thing to do for the people of Pinal County. Rather, I believe it was a purely political decision meant to appeal to their voting base. After all, when booster shots are authorized, or children under the age of 12 are approved to receive the vaccine, where will the money come from to help implement those additional protections?

Again, Pinal County Health Services District Director Dr. Tascha Spears said,

In Pinal County there are some communities who are underserved, who don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines. So this is specifically to facilitate that, so that communities everywhere truly do have a choice about whether they would like to receive the vaccine or not.

That’s the thing see. If you don’t know what your choices are, or you can’t access the choice you’ve made, you have no choice at all.

Lack of Accountability is Road to Ruin

Political partisanship and the outsized influence of money have made effective governance at all levels, difficult to achieve. Lack of accountability is another significant contributor to the dysfunction and is greatly speeding us down the road to ruin.

Accountability is defined as “the fact or condition of being accountable” and “the quality or state of being accountable especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”. We tend to think of accountability in terms of institutions, but it is just as important to think about it on an individual basis.

There have always been people who pushed the limits of the law and then gotten away with it, but over the past five years, I’ve seen a serious uptick in disregard for rule and law abidance from individuals led no doubt, by examples set by our leaders.

We were all shocked by so many things Trump said and did during his initial campaign for president and then even after he was elected. From calling Mexicans “murderers and rapists” to bragging about “grabbing women by the pussy”, to self-dealing for financial gain while President, Trump flagrantly disregarded convention and got away with it. This type of behavior from our leaders, particularly THE leader of our nation, only encourages others to do the same saying, “well, if the President can do it…”

Think about it. When’s the last time you drove somewhere traveling “safely” four or so miles above the speed limit while everyone around you was passing you like you were standing still? And, after being passed by numerous cars going way over the speed limit, don’t you start to feel like a schmuck for being the only one obeying the law? That’s what happens, lawlessness begets lawlessness. With each guardrail crashed through, we tumble further down the mountain. What’s to keep us from ending up in a flaming pile at the bottom?

This pile could easily have been the result of the January 6th insurrection if not for police, military, and lawmakers who acted bravely that day. Years of stoking resentments and perpetuating lies culminated in treasonous attacks on our democracy and although hundreds have been arrested for their unlawful actions, the lead insurrectionist, Donald Trump, has yet to be held accountable. Not only has he not been held accountable, he still vociferously maintains the election was stolen and that those who marched on the Capitol were heroes and martyrs.

So, the President gets away with murder (figuratively and some would say literally, e.g. COVID), and the rest of us feel empowered to misbehave with impunity. In fact, not only are people empowered to break the law or bend the rules, they often feel it is their God-given right to do so. At the same time, they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. Take anti-vaxxers for example. They say it is their right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated, after all, it is their body. But…what happens when they contract COVID and wind up in the hospital? Insured or not, there is a cost to society for their care.

Maybe we ought to treat the unvaccinated (by choice), the way the military treats members injured on motorcycles while not wearing a helmet. Although medical treatment is normally free for military members, if found in violation of the mandatory helmet requirement, the military can deny coverage of the cost of medical treatment. Sound harsh? Maybe, but the potential impact on individuals, units, and mission accomplishment requires severe accountability.

But unlike choosing not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, choosing not to be vaccinated for COVID doesn’t just put yourself at risk of injury or death. Yes, 99.2% of U.S. COVID deaths in June were unvaccinated people. But, not everyone who is unvaccinated has chosen not to get the vaccine. Some can’t get vaccinated because they have medical conditions. And with an efficacy rate of only 95%, a small percentage of previously vaccinated people are contracting the virus. The good news is that these vaccinated people are much less likely to die from it. We continue to learn though, about the potential long-haul effects of those who contract COVID, even if they are asymptomatic. That means others could be held accountable for a person’s choice to deny vaccination. That is not okay and reminds me of the Abraham Lincoln quote, “my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”. In other words, your right to proceed unimpeded must be tempered by the potentially negative impact of your actions on others.

If we are to live in a civil society, we must agree on rules of behavior and standards of conduct that keep us safe and peaceful. Rules such as as those that ensure our children are protected when in school, those that keep us safe on our roads, and yes, those that prevent the spread of disease and viruses.

It continues to amaze me how much our “greatest generation” sacrificed for the common good and how now, so many of their grandchildren refuse to make even the simplest sacrifice such as wearing a mask. Not only do they refuse to do it, but they’ve somehow managed to brand mask-wearing as un-patriotic and un-masculine.

I have no idea where all this ends, but because those refusing vaccination are the same ones refusing to be accountable to others by wearing a mask, I am certain it is a long way from over. The only thing different this time around is that it is almost entirely those who are not vaccinated who are dying from COVID. That of course is the ultimate accountability.