An Oak Bluffs food inspector has resigned amid disagreement with the board of health over the enforcement of health code violations.
Ron Tolin, who had served the town for five years, submitted his resignation on Sept. 3, effective Sept. 10. Calling it a “hard decision,” Mr. Tolin said in a letter that his action was prompted in part by the board’s decision to keep Fat Ronnie’s hamburger restaurant open despite multiple violations of the health code.
“To allow a restaurant with eight or more critical violations to remain open even for one day is shameful and I do not want to be associated with a food-borne illness or outbreak,” Mr. Tolin wrote.
An inspection of Fat Ronnie’s conducted Sept. 11 shows that all health issues have been resolved.
Mr. Tolin inspected the property on two occasions, including a routine walk-through on July 15, and an August 29 reinspection, prompted by a general complaint. On the first inspection he made note of a broken front step, a lack of person in charge on premises and lack of hair restraints. The latter two violations were rectified on the following day.
But when he inspected the restaurant on August 29, he made note of eight violations related to possible food-borne illnesses, interventions and risk factors, including hamburger held at 54 degrees Fahrenheit, and extensive build-up of grease on the floor in the kitchen next to the serving line. Photographs attached to his report show food residue in a hand wash-only sink, as well as debris and dead bugs. In an email to the health agent sent that day, he wrote, “I was appalled at the condition of his establishment and of his attitude when we arrived.”
A subsequent Sept. 3 inspection performed by health agent Shirley Fauteux confirmed problems, including grease buildup behind a grill and on the floor. Ms. Fauteux reported the violations to the board of health at that day’s meeting, but she did not seek closure of the restaurant, pending a subsequent inspection. The following day, the violations were corrected, although Ms. Fauteux noted a persistent absence of employee medical forms.
At a board of health meeting Tuesday, Ms. Fauteux took responsibility for not closing Fat Ronnie’s. “He should have been closed immediately,” she said, referring to owner Reynaldo Faust. “I should have closed him and I didn’t.”
Board of health chairman Patricia Bergeron said this week that the board tends to try to help restaurants comply with the code. “There’s just about nothing that can’t be worked out,” she said. “We don’t want to close people down, there should be a way to work everything out, which we felt we did.” She said Mr. Tolin and the board agreed on “keeping people healthy” but disagreed on the appropriate action to take in response to violations.
Mr. Tolin’s resignation came on the heels of the busiest summer in the health department in recent memory, according to Ms. Fauteux, who has worked for the town for 21 years. She also said it was the most difficult summer she’s ever experienced. “When I say busy, it’s just nonstop,” the health agent said.
Forty-five inspections slated to be completed during the summer months have yet to be performed. Ms. Bergeron stressed that the backup was not the result of negligence on the part of the health officials. “That is not for any lack of effort,” she said. “They are doing all their work.”
Instead, it’s due to a lack of manpower, board members agreed.
Ms. Fauteux is the only full-time inspector in the town, with Mr. Tolin helping out 10 to 20 hours per week, performing inspections and doing testing at beaches in the summer months. “With the number of food places in Oak Bluffs, it’s silly to expect full inspections by a part-time person,” said board of health member John Campbell.
Also, unlike other towns, Oak Bluffs is charged with health inspections for a number of regional agencies, including the hospital, Community Services, the regional high school and the YMCA. Board of health members agreed this adds to the burden of the health agent.
Now as the town regains some financial stability, town administrator Robert Whritenour said he hopes to improve the situation with a new part-time administrative position to be shared between the health and the building departments. The position was recently filled with Christopher Forgette, a transplant from the Chesapeake Bay area. But while Mr. Forgette is an experienced contractor with demonstrated understanding of the building permit process, he does not have much experience with restaurants, and will receive training in that area, Mr. Whritenour said.
He called it a good start.
“You guys are understaffed, the building department is understaffed, and I think if we continue to work like we are working, we are definitely getting closer,” the town administrator said.