Puckett-Board of Health conflict continues in heated commission meeting

Mercer County

A Mercer County Commission meeting ends with people walking out and several heated arguments.

The meeting on Tuesday heated up when it came time to vote on the reappointment of Dr. Randy Maxwell to the Mercer County Board of Health. 

Maxwell was one of the board members who voted County Commissioner, Greg Puckett, off of the Board of Health last month; a decision that sparked controversy and even outrage with the public. 

“I sat in that Board of Health meeting back in August and watched our Board of Health vote against the one advocate for our health,” said one community member. “Greg Puckett stands for the constituents of Mercer County, West Virginia.” 

Another local stood up and said, “I think the fact that we put health on the back burner for other things is wrong, because we’re advocates for health.”

Back in August, board members claimed that Puckett’s role outside of the board as the Executive Director of Community Connections in Mercer County was a conflict of interest with his service on the Board of Health. They also cited Puckett’s move to change the Clean Air Ordinance and ban smoking in indoor places, like bingo halls and bars, as a key reason for his removal.

The issue resurfaced among community members at the meeting as they argued for or against Maxwell’s reappointment.

One local business owner said, “That’s the owner’s choice and the customer’s choice but they shouldn’t be punished for people that do smoke.”

Princeton resident, Sandra Goodman, felt otherwise.

“They’re trying to tell you that they can’t breathe, that it is forcing them into hospitals, that it is dangerous for children,” said Goodman. “You don’t know how much is too much.”

After hearing several impassioned arguments, both for and against re-appointing Maxwell, President of the Mercer County Commission, Gene Buckner, put his foot down. He reminded everyone that they were not there to discuss the smoking ban or to pit Maxwell and Puckett against each other.

“It shouldn’t have any influence at all over what’s going on here today,” Buckner said.

When it was time for Maxwell to speak for himself, he remained seated as he explained his own ideas about the smoking issue.

“I want to focus the efforts more on the culture shift of trying to get the young people…spend that money on the young people trying to get them educated on the dangers of it and work it from the bottom up,” Maxwell explained.

Puckett doubled down, and it was no surprise how he was leaning. His vote could give him the upper hand against the board that removed him and help move the smoking ban along, an issue he takes personally.

“I believe that you do not possess the qualifications to be a Board of Health member,” Puckett said to Maxwell. “Mainly because public health and the administration of health to an individual are two different things. Public health is much greater, much broader, and when you’re looking at the holistic health of a particular community, it has to be taken into consideration that West Virginia state code upholds all of those orders in that area…and so, unfortunately, I do not see that with you.” 

When Buckner heard enough he called for the vote. Both Buckner and Commissioner Bill Archer voted in favor of re-appointing Maxwell, and Puckett stood his ground.

The two-to-one vote made the decision to re-appoint Maxwell to the board of health final. As of now, Puckett is still removed from the board and unable to move forward with his changes to the clean air act. However, Puckett said he is still waiting for the state to determine course of action. 

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