The board currently has five members. One member was asked to resign. Another resigned voluntarily. And of the five remaining members, the terms of four members, including chairman Dr. Barbara Poremba, has expired.
The council also failed on a five to five vote to approve the request of the health board to change the title of health agent Larry Ramdin to health director. Ward 6 Councilor Paul Prevey was absent.
The Board of Health appears to have the authority to call its senior staff person by either title and may vote, despite the council's action, to change the title.
Councilor at Large Thomas Furey, who is the council's liaison to the Board of Health, argued that most cities in Massachusetts have only a three-member board. And with seven members, the board cannot meet at times for lack of a quorum.
Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Ryan argued against the change, saying there are a lot of people in Salem who would like to serve and are qualified to serve on the health board.
"We have people willing to serve," Ryan said.
Council President Joan Lovely seemed to seal the defeat of the proposal, saying, "If it is just to make it easier to reach a quorum, then I can't support that."
Other opponents suggested that the remaining members of the health board wanted to reduce the number of members to make it easier to control the board.
Councilor at Large Arthur Sargent III said, "I can't believe the reason (for this proposal) is attendance. The more members you have the more input you have, more opinions and more democracy."
The health board was created in the early 1970s by merging the three-member health board with a three-member city hospital board. The city and ultimately the state legislature added a seventh member to break ties.
The health board argued that since the city no longer operates a hospital, having seven members is more than are needed.
Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel, who opposed the measure, said the health board should get its membership reappointed first.
Ward 1 Councilor Robert McCarthy suggested that the attendance record of board members should be reviewed before they are reappointed.
"If they can't make the commitment to attend the meetings, they shouldn't be on the board," McCarthy said.