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Nueces County commissioners approve health-district agreement

Peter zanoni YouTube.jpg
Posted at 5:03 PM, Feb 11, 2022

UPDATE (12:07 p.m. Monday): Nueces County commissioners voted to approve the recently amended joint cooperative agreement with the city of Corpus Christi, which keeps the City of Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District intact by a vote of 4-1, with county judge Barbara Canales again being the only dissenting vote.

Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni released more information in a YouTube video on Friday about the new amended cooperative agreement to run the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District.

"We know that, initially, city council had voted unanimously to create a separate city health department," he said in the video. "However, since that vote back in October, we've been working closely with Nueces County Commissioners Court, who expressed some concern on them assuming the health district that would remain."

He said when those concerns arose, he and the city council were approached by commissioners about continuing on as a single unit.

"That has been the preferred model now for the last couple of weeks," he said.

This will be the fourth time the official city-county cooperative agreement governing the public health district has been amended since its creation in 1984.

In this iteration, Zanoni said the city will assume complete operational control of the public health district. Previously, certain positions answered to both city and county officials.

Under this new agreement, all employees will answer to city leaders.

He also reaffirmed that all staff will be required to reapply for their jobs, including high-ranking health district officials such as public health director Annette Rodriguez and assistant public health director Luis Wilmot. If rehired, employees who previously also fell under the county's umbrella no longer will, but the sick time and vacation time they had already accrued under the county's management will be honored by the city.

County health department workers possibly losing those benefits after becoming city employees is a concern for Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales.

"When we make the transition," she said. "Our goal is for our employees to be made whole financially and also for them to take with them those benefits that they have earned.”

Zanoni also said state delegates, including Sen. Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa and Sen. Todd Hunter, have been supportive of the transition.

"For better health quality and better work environment for the staff," he said.

He named a complex work environment as part of the reason why a split was needed, when the original vote happened in October.

"We have to do two groups of employees reporting to two different governmental entities that supposedly work side by side, although they have different pay structures, different holiday schedules, different bosses,” he said.

A system, which Zanoni said then, “causes dysfunction.”

It's a point Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales doesn't debate, but she said she believes the new agreement is more about control for Zanoni than trying to improve local public health.

Canales, who was the lone vote against the new agreement on either city council or commissioners court, met with 30 county employees Friday to discuss the changes.

She told anchor Pat Simon on Friday she has issues with the agreement's structure.

"The major sticking point is having county appointees reapplying for their jobs," she said. "In any way."

"So, we all have always agreed, Pat, that you want to transition either all to city or all to county. In this regard, we have decided to move all employees to the city, and that has a lot of implications: vacation, sick leave, retention pay, premium pay, investment and retirement, just to name a few. So, we had to make certain that we had all those protections."

She said she just wants to make sure employees who have been loyal to the county are protected.

"For me, I want them protected throughout the fiscal year," Canales said. "They have done everything for us and we don't want -- under the name of supposed efficiencies -- to be compromised or vulnerable in any way."

Under the new structure, city leaders — likely Zanoni — also will hold quarterly meetings with county commissioners to update them on the district's status, and every couple of years, the city and county can update the district's business model if they see fit.

A special commissioners court meeting is scheduled for Monday in order to finalize the new agreement, Zanoni said. Canales said finalizing the agreement could take as long as Tuesday or Wednesday.