A crowded field of nine people, including all three incumbents, are contending for three seats on the Jefferson County Health Department’s Board of Directors in the April 4 election.
Incumbents seeking new four-year terms are: Timothy J. Pigg, who is trying for his fifth term; Dennis M. Diehl, a third term and James Prater, a second term.
Seeking to unseat the incumbents are Toney Dunaway, Tammy Stidem, Ian McFarland, Amer Hassan, Valerie Brown Taylor and Shane Roden, a former state representative.
Board members are not paid.
PIGG, 60, of Festus is the director of the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Department. He and his wife, Margaret, have two children. He received a master’s degree in business administration from Missouri Baptist University and a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a minor in marketing from Southeast Missouri State University.
PRATER, 45, of Barnhart is a virtual chief information officer for Throttlenet. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have two children. He studied network engineering at St. Louis Community College, Southeast Missouri State University and Western Governors University.
DUNAWAY, 50, of High Ridge is a naturopathic doctor with a private practice in House Springs. He and his wife, Sheri, have three children. He is pursuing a doctorate degree and holds a masters’ degree in nutrition from the International Institute of Original Medicine.
STIDEM, 53, of High Ridge has been a registered nurse for 28 years. She is single and has two children. She received an associate degree in nursing from St. Louis Community College.
DIEHL, 73, of Hillsboro is retired after directing the Jefferson County Health Department from 1996 to 2013. He and his wife, Linda, have two children and three grandchildren. Diehl earned a master’s degree in public policy administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and has degrees in English and business administration from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
McFARLAND, 47, of Cedar Hill is the owner and chief executive officer of Modern Weapon Systems and two other manufacturing firms, SB LLC and HR LLC. He is single and has two children. He attended Jefferson College and Lindbergh and Parkway South high schools.
HASSAN, 26, of House Springs works as a quality control lab tech. He is single. He has a degree in biochemistry and biotechnology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
TAYLOR, 70, of Herculaneum is a retired dental hygienist who is a substitute teacher in the Dunklin R-5 and Crystal City school districts. She formerly worked as a hospice caregiver and assistant. She and her husband, Willie, have 13 grandchildren and a great-grandchild. A 1970 graduate of Crystal City High School, she earned an associate degree from St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, a bachelor’s degree in health administration and management and has certifications from Johns Hopkins and Emory universities.
RODEN, 39, of Cedar Hill is a territory manager selling fire and EMS equipment. He and his wife, Shannon, have three daughters.
He graduated from East Central College in 2003 with an associate degree in paramedic technology, from Lindenwood University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in fire science management and from Arkansas State University in 2014 with a master’s degree in public administration.
What experience do you have (elected office, civic organizations, volunteer work, etc.) that might serve you well in this position? (75 words):
Pigg: I have been a member of the Health Department board since 2007 and have been its chairman in 2008-2015 and 2018-2020. I was an alderman in Herculaneum from 1993-2003, served on the Local Emergency Planning Committee of Jefferson County from 1994-2000 (chairman 1998-99) and on the St. Louis Area Regional Response System-Metropolitan Medical Response System from 1999-2008.
Prater: I am the current Health Department board’s secretary and am chairman of the Carson Hill Cemetery Board.
Dunaway: I’ve been working in the health field for years. I have never served in an elected office. I’ve been a personal trainer and hold a master degree in nutrition, and through it all have seen various stages of health, which drives me to want better health outcomes for people.
Stidem: I have been a registered nurse for 33 years. I also have experience as an administrative supervisor, charge nurse and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation specialist. I am also on the Neonatal ICU Transport Team and have served as the president of the Northwest Lions Football Booster Club.
Diehl: I am the current chair of the Health Department’s board and have been involved in numerous organizations, including the Missouri Association of Local Public Health Agencies, the Jefferson County Community Partnership, East Central Missouri Area Health Education Center, Great Mines Health Center, Supporters of the Jefferson County Drug Court and the Missouri Institute for Community Health.
McFarland: None. I have no interest in being a politician.
Hassan: I have a degree in hard sciences with the knowledge to read and understand science, research papers and various data with the ability to provide the public with sound factual data on issues of health.
Taylor: I have not previously held elected office other than small volunteer organizations. My experience in elderly caregiving, hospice assistant and administrator training gives me a greater health perspective when working with community professionals and partners. I have volunteered with various care organizations and church groups, the United Way of Central Georgia and have worked with children in early childhood education with special needs. I come from a family of service and have passed that on.
Roden: I am a former state representative for the 111th District, serving from 2015-2023, and a volunteer firefighter and paramedic. I am a lifetime member of the Commemorative Air Force,
What are the biggest problems facing the department and how would you address them?
Pigg: There is a shortage of nurses in the department. The past few years have taken its toll on caregivers, perhaps more than any other segment of our society. Our community is going to face some major challenges with regard to the influx of immigrants, legal and illegal, as well as homeless persons and low-income families. This will put a significant burden on the Health Department with both resources and continued grant funding. We must ensure we keep working with all agencies at the local, state and federal levels to find good solutions.
Prater: Staffing to be able to provide the service levels needed. Continue recruiting for open positions.
Dunaway: Transparency, as this department is rotten with its lack of transparency. This is a public agency with public funding. Priority No. 2 is to cut back the immense financial waste, and the third is streamlining the local clinics, staffing them to fully help the public. With all of those goals comes personal choice for the public instead of decisions being forced upon them.
Stidem: Lack of transparency and availability to the public (the department is open only four days a week). Other priorities are the Aspen program which deals with mental well-being, the out-of-control spending and mandates.
Diehl: Access to care, mental health and substance abuse. The 2022 Community Needs Assessment was conducted with partners including Mercy Hospital Jefferson, Comtrea, the Jefferson County Community Partnership and the Community Action Corp. and focusing on citizen input. We must continue to work with all community partners. Public health is a science. We must retain employees who have relevant education, training and experience. We must continue to obtain contracts and grants to address needs in Jefferson County, using evidence-based interventions that supplement more than half of the annual budget of $8 million.
McFarland: Representing only the people in the county and not special interests needs to be the top priority. Furthermore, fiscal responsibility, lack of services, quality of care, new service offerings and transparency with full disclosures, immediate Sunshine Law request responses and following the open meetings policy. The department has been running as a closed book to the public, which is alarming.
Hassan: The current board does not represent the people of Jefferson County. Instead, it kowtows to special interests at the expense of the rights of the people. Poor transparency and a lack of ethics plague both the board and department. Fiscal mismanagement and further lack of services because of mismanaged funds. Not one person on the board or director are medical professionals or scientists.
Taylor: Overcoming misinformation challenges that threaten community trust and inclusion. Our Health Department and board should be nonpartisan for the protection of all residents. We owe our children and grandchildren a future of better public health service. A team approach of collaboration, critical thinking and common-sense policies has to be based on relevant updated data, research and analysis, with consideration for community safety above all.
Roden: Trust and transparency are some of the biggest issues facing the department. With the multiple lawsuits over Sunshine Law violations, this has become very evident. One solution is to find a location for board meetings that can accommodate more individuals along with changing times to a more suitable time. Financial information should be located on a more user-friendly area of the department’s website. Information should not require a Sunshine Law request to see where money is being spent.
What letter grade would you give the board on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Why?
Pigg: I would give us a solid B. We were attempting to mitigate somewhere between our federal government and the anxiety of our citizens. We could have been more proactive in communicating the “why.” We needed to give the historical detail of the past novel virus that devastated both the indigenous Americans and the Inca in South America, who were completely decimated. This was the scary potential of a novel virus racing through our world with no natural immunities.
Prater: B. COVID-19 was new and no one knew with 100 percent certainty what would work to fight it. The board followed CDC guidelines in its decisions. The problem with that was those guidelines are still changing as more is learned about the virus. I don’t support mandatory masking. I believe in personal responsibility and choice.
Dunaway: Absolutely F. I believe the measures dictated by this department have zero science backing them and have even been debunked by more recent studies. Plus, the lack of transparency. Meetings of a public agency should never be closed to the public.
Stidem: A big fat F. The department accepted state and federal money to enforce mandates on the people.
Diehl: B. Public health dealt with the worst pandemic in 100 years as it unfolded in real time (with 1 million Americans dead; more than 600 in Jefferson County). The most effective way to minimize those effects was to shorten the pandemic. Federal, state and local public health agencies applied interventions used for years to contain airborne communicable diseases, including testing, isolation of infectious individuals, social distancing, masking and vaccines as they became available. To provide, document and report these activities required tremendous flexibility from the administration and staff while providing other needed services.
McFarland: F-. The board put special interests and money before your constitutional rights. It has continued to abuse its authority while spending money recklessly. Data provided to the public was false and there are many Sunshine Law requests outstanding. Data security is nonexistent and should be immediately secured.
Hassan: F-. To this day, the board does not know how COVID-19 replicates. I was told by the board that coronavirus was new, and the board did not know anything about it. Coronavirus and its “species” have been known in scientific literature since the 1970s and not one person on that board or in the department bothered to do any research. They rubber-stamped anything that would give themselves money and/or power at the expense of the lives of the people of Jefferson County.
Taylor: B+ because a Health Department’s job is to protect its community from threats of many kinds. As more information became available on a virus new to us, I feel they worked tirelessly to get it right. The department played a role in my childhood with vaccinations and health care. It was viciously attacked by longtime trusted professional institutions. Infectious diseases will ultimately continue to disrupt our health systems in the future. The department must prepare for these challenges. Distrust, misinformation and irrational behaviors became the norm as residents panicked.
Roden: D. While the board attempted to do what they felt was right initially, over time they failed many basic responsibilities such as working with the Jefferson County Council and other elected officials. They neglected to follow both the U.S. and Missouri constitutions and violated state law numerous times, which resulted in the attorney general taking them to court and wasting taxpayers money to defend their actions.
What should the board’s role be to advance the department’s vision of “advancing the health and safety of Jefferson County?”
Pigg: State law indicates that “the public health center is established, maintained and operated for the improvement of health of all inhabitants of said county or counties.” This is the purpose and duty of all trustees, as there are no caveats to this sentence. A few candidates want to block funding and eliminate the department. This is one of the most dangerous and foolish ideas for many reasons, including vaccinations for childhood diseases, water safety, food safety, vector control (mosquitoes), rabies, well woman checkups and mental illness. Public health does a lot more than just monitor a virus.
Prater: Provide the support and oversight to the Health Department to be able to succeed in that vision.
Dunaway: The board needs to evaluate every program that the department offers, scrapping those that do not provide health value and beefing up those that do. Some current or proposed programs violate our rights and intrude on our children, who should not be the first line with an experimental program. Programs that affect the health and safety of every resident should be considered.
Stidem: Education on preventive health (nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc.) vs. reactive health.
Diehl: The board’s role is to oversee the effective and efficient accomplishment of the department’s vision and mission. Board members are your neighbors, elected on a nonpartisan basis and dedicated to public service. As a result of the board’s oversight, the department is one of 14 of 114 local Missouri public health agencies that are accredited. All activities are based on identified needs in the county and are evidence-based. The department has been transparent by providing online access to board meetings and has provided valid public explanations for all expenditures and activities.
McFarland: Serving only the public’s interests and not special interests and big government. No more lockdowns, no more mandates, no more reckless spending. We need to focus on providing care and services to the public. The department needs to offer more options and days open to the public, increase the quality of service, including providing new services. It needs to offer open large meetings, with fair and open debate with the public to provide input.
Hassan: The board’s role should serve the people’s interests and not be swayed by state or federal government pressure. Special interests should be cast out from the decision-making processes of the board and should be brought to the public’s attention to see who wishes to tread on their livelihood. The board should serve as an advisory role to the people and provide them with proof and reasoning for that advice. This can be achieved in the form of open debates and questions taken directly from the public to the board members and the department head.
Taylor: The board should be the stewards of public health and safety. A team mindset to support and strengthen the department will advance health outcomes. Crisis events, future infectious diseases and global health incidents will continue. Moving our public health systems forward should be a priority.
Roden: The board’s role should be an advocate for the taxpayers who put the trust into the members who elected them. This is an oversight position to ensure we have competent, qualified individuals running the day-to-day operations of the department and spending the taxpayers’ money as efficiently as possible.
Why should voters elect you to this position? List your goals, if elected.
Pigg: As trustees, our duty is to ensure the health of all people, especially those who are the most vulnerable. We need to continue to seek solutions to current health issues such as obesity, mental health and drug addiction. Another goal is to improve the department’s online presence to increase access to all offered resources and services. Ensure that the department continues to apply for grants and other funding sources to provide for current and new services. Finally, ensure the department continues to provide educational opportunities to assist our children and families to improve their health.
Prater: I’d like to see the completion of the new main building in Hillsboro during my next term, as the existing facility needs to be replaced. I’d like to have a review completed of the information technology infrastructure and policies to ensure that security best practices are being observed. I want to see the mobile clinic services expanded with visits to the northwest Jefferson County region being more frequent.
Dunaway: Transparency. Cut needless spending. Beef up useful programs. Hire and train a proper hierarchy at each branch. Open all board meetings to the public. There should be an operations manager at each branch who would report to the board. The board needs to educate the public about all of its health choices.
Stidem: As a registered nurse, I have always been a strong patient advocate. I will bring that same passion to the board.
Diehl: Individuals elected to the board should have either an understanding of the science of public health (or the willingness to learn); or expertise relevant to governing a local public health agency. I have more than 40 years of relevant experience. I have been a resident of Jefferson County since 1997. I understand the health and safety concerns in Jefferson County. I have extensive useful relationships on the federal, state and local levels, including many community organizations. My only goal is to continue to help every resident reach their healthy potential.
McFarland: I am a constitutionalist and follow the will of the people, I cannot be bought and paid for, nor will I sell out the voters of Jefferson County to state or federal governments and their money with strings attached. I will restore your rights to liberty and freedom to allow you to make your own choices about your health and welfare. I will never vote to take away your right to choose what is right for you.
Hassan: I’m a constitutionalist and prioritize liberty and individual sovereignty. I am a scientist and will not feed people lies for power, money or status. I will work to restore the freedom of the people of Jefferson County to make sure that the government does not impose on their lives and livelihood. I will never vote to take your rights away as it is also selling away my own. I do not plan to make a career out of this, just to take back the freedom that belongs to the people.
Taylor: I am asking for voters to consider my commitment to work in the best interests of all residents who recognize and want to prioritize community health needs. Our health infrastructure has to sustain our future growth and community demands. I support continued accountability, health literacy, mental health services, drug treatment intervention programs and all issues that health departments address.
Roden: I would hope I have earned the trust of the voters, knowing I have maintained my integrity before, during and after serving the community and the same level of professionalism will be maintained if the voters would choose to elect me to this board. My goals are simple: Improve on transparency and rebuild the trust the community has lost in the department.