The two candidates for a seat on the Board of Health in the March 12 town election are easy to differentiate—sometimes.
Bea Brunkhorst is seeking her ninth three-year term on the board. Alison O’Connell moved to town less than two years ago. Brunkhorst is a scientist who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry; O’Connell is a director of corporate compliance. Brunkhorst has consistently supported requiring indoor facemasks in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. O’Connell said, “I would challenge us to think about everything we have done, every step of the way, as an experiment, part of which is trying different approaches.”
However, each candidate identifies as team-oriented. “I am a collaborative person and I respect everyone. Sometimes it gets emotional but we’ve got to separate ourselves from that and think, ‘What are our values to the most vulnerable?’” according to Brunkhorst.
O’Connell says, “I consider myself a collaborative facilitator. I have a desire to listen and integrate a broad range of perspectives. I want to help the board move forward in how we approach discussions.”
Each candidate introduced herself and answered questions on separate virtual programs earlier this month. Brunkhorst shared the screen time with several other candidates for office; O’Connell’s event was solo.
O’Connell didn’t shy away from the topic that has dominated Board of Health meetings for almost two years: The Covid-19 pandemic. “As a Board of Health member, it’s important for me to have consensus. Now I’m not sure we have it. I see myself as a facilitator.”
Brunkhorst commented, “I’m pretty done with Covid, but unfortunately Covid is not done with us. We look at the data at every meeting and I’m really committed to getting us through this pandemic.” The board’s responses, she said, “have led businesses to remain open and community events to resume.”
She backed the decision to “provide a toolbox for Bedford.” After the emergency subsides, she stated, “best practice suggests the board should evaluate the response.”
O’Connell said she was “a very early adapter” protecting herself against Covid-19, and now she is “less conservative about restrictions.”
A resident followed up, noting that some people have health concerns and asking how the candidate finds balance. “We need to make it easy to get vaccines and keep the transmission rate under control,” O’Connell said. “The board can make high-quality masks available to those who want them. I think we are at the place to relax the mandate, but I really want to work this with the group and go through all the hard questions.”
Asked about the role of the board in providing “scaffolding” around the threat of Covid-19, Brunkhorst noted, “We are here for the most vulnerable.” The board, she said, has taken a “data-driven approach,” but the virus variants “really threw us for a loop.” She said the board is considering criteria for an “off-ramp” from the mask requirement, such as transmission or test results.” (Subsequently, the board voted to rescind the mandate effective Feb. 28, based on the state education department’s decision for schools.)
Asked about contentiousness that has defined the issue, Brunkhorst maintained, “We want to make sure we listen to everyone’s opinion.”
O’Connell presented a series of “breakout questions” that she said warrant thoughtful consideration. They touched on the possibility of “seasonal mandates,” the value of one-way masking, the role of a board member as “a supporter and facilitator or an enforcer?”
She expanded on Covid mitigation and mask requirements “It’s important to identify the thresholds, she said. “Mandates are essential at the beginning of a crisis. Over time we should start to have a dialogue as to whether they are necessary. That’s a conversation we are starting to have. I think it’s a reasonable goal to say that a mandate drives results. These are all questions that I want to talk through.”
The ‘concept of civil liberty’ is “definitely a factor,” she commented. “We can now make more permanent solutions because we see those patterns over time.” She asked, “How do we want to reconcile individual civil liberty vs. the greater good?”
There were questions that directly addressed the current campaign. Asked if she was ready to deal with “backlash,” O’Connell said, “That will be my biggest challenge because I want to be liked. What I want to lead with is being someone who’s moderate, to make sure everyone feels comfortable.”
O’Connell was also asked why she has aligned herself with three other candidates for other offices under the label “Better Together.” Ben Bennett wondered, “What exactly is the relationship there among the candidates?”
The candidate downplayed the arrangement. “We came together organically. It just kind of happened. We’re the kind of people who want to work together; we believe we are better together if we support each other, though we might not agree on everything. It’s just about teamwork and camaraderie. We like working together and we want to be collaborative.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763
Yet another article where Rosenberg is trying to make it seem like something shady is going on! “Downplayed” is his opinion and a word used to try to slant a negative connotation. I heard her answer, she was clear and concise, and it sounds like a great goal for all people in town to work together and respect each other. Also, he mentions the BOH lifting the mask mandate, but leaves out how Bea voted. Wouldn’t that be extremely relevant? He probably doesn’t want to risk turning anyone off based on her vote…so leave it out…too risky either way! Unfortunately, not surprised the slant continues. The Citizen pretends they don’t have an agenda…..but not very well.