WILLIAMSTOWN — The Select Board wants to cut ties with Health Officer Arthur Kramer based on his handling of a recent dog bite.
During an “emergency meeting” held last Thursday Chairman Matt Rouleau said Monday the board instructed Town Manger Jackie Higgins to write a letter to Health Commissioner Mark Levine requesting Levine rescind Kramer’s certification to serve as the town’s health officer.
The status of that letter is unclear.
Higgins was arrested for driving under the influence and providing false information to police hours after Thursday’s meeting, wasn’t in the office on Friday, though she was expected to return to work on Monday.
Rouleau said he was aware of Higgins’ Thursday night arrest in Tunbridge, but noted the board, which met Monday night, hadn’t had an opportunity to discuss it and his personal knowledge was limited.
“I don’t really know enough to comment,” he said.
Rouleau offered only slightly more information when asked the board’s request Kramer’s recently renewed tenure as health officer be terminated.
According to Rouleau, the decision was driven by what he described as Kramer’s questionable handling of a “dog issue.”
Kramer, who previously served for two three-year terms as health officer and was reappointed earlier this year following a three-year hiatus, shared his version of the story on Monday.
According to Kramer, it all started when he received a form from Central Vermont Medical Center late last month advising him of a young patient who had been treated for a dog bite at the Berlin hospital.
Kramer said he received the form in his capacity as health officer because the unexplained dog bite occurred in Williamstown.
According to Kramer, the bite victim was “under three years of age,” and the family dog responsible for the bite was both unlicensed and overdue for its rabies booster.
Kramer said he opted to quarantine the dog with a South Barre veterinarian, because he could not initially ascertain whether it could safely be quarantined at home.
Kramer said that decision immediately prompted threats of a lawsuit from the dog’s owner and conversations that involved by the state Department of Health and the state veterinarian.
“It was really a Chinese fire drill,” he said, adding: “It got real nasty.”
Kramer, 76, said his own conduct was questioned, though he inadvertently learned of last week’s emergency meeting.
“I was not invited to a public meeting about me,” he said.
Kramer said he attended the meeting, defended his decision and was asked to immediately relinquish his duties as health officer.
Kramer refused and said he has since sent his own letter to the health department noting he was within his right as the town’s “duly appointed health officer” to quarantine the dog for 10 days at the owner’s expense based on safety-related concerns.
According to the handbook the department publishes for town health officers the protocol in the event of a dog bite is pretty clear. Among other things, health officers must: “… require that the animal be confined and observed for 10 days to determine whether the animal remains healthy even if rabies shots are up-to-date.”
It does allow for some discretion, while relying on the judgment of health officers.
“… Confinement and observation may be carried out at the residence of the animal’s owner so long as the animal is not able to escape, bite or expose anyone during the 10-day period,” the handbook states, adding: “If the (town health officer) feels that the owner will not be able to confine the animal appropriately, the animal can be confined in a facility at the owner’s expense.”
Kramer said he made that judgment call, was not inclined to resign less than a year into his latest term and hopeful the department wouldn’t bow to the board’s request he be stripped of his certification, paving the way for someone else to be appointed.