RALEIGH — The N.C. Commission for Public Health (NCCPH) says it is the “public health rulemaking body for North Carolina” and is “authorized and directed by the N.C. General Assembly to adopt rules to protect and promote the health of the public and to adopt rules necessary to implement public health programs administered by the Division of Public Health.”
According to its website, the NCCPH was created by the General Assembly in 1877 and was originally named the State Board of Health. It was renamed once, in 1973, and then became the Commission for Public Health in 2007.
In August 2021, the members of NCCPH had entertained the idea of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students across the state. The commission met virtually on Oct. 15 and members of the body joked about what they referred to as anti-vax and mask “rhetoric,” in audio obtained exclusively by North State Journal.
The NCCPH is the only body other than the legislature that can require inoculation changes for the state’s K-12 public schools.
The commission has four members appointed by the N.C. Medical Society and nine by the governor. The members of the NCCPH serve four-year terms. N.C. Medical Society appointed members include Dr. Janelle Rhyne, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist from Wilmington; Dr. Douglas Sheets, an OB/GYN from Rutherfordton; and Dr. Lisa Shock, only appointed last November. Additionally, Dr. Ronald May, who serves as chair, is the vice president of Medical Affairs at CarolinaEast Medical Center in New Bern and had been previously appointed to the NCCPH by former Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2010.
All of the gubernatorial appointees currently on the board are Gov. Roy Cooper’s, as he is now into his second term. But who are they?
Dr. Don Chaplin is an internist from the Burlington area. He was a Medical Society appointee. Chaplin’s term expired Nov. 30 of this year, so his seat is now vacant.
Dr. Joseph Gordon is a veterinarian from Raleigh. He’s served for 10 years on the N.C. Veterinary Board.
Dr. Venkata Jonnalagadda is from Greenville and is the medical director for the North Carolina Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.
Gene Minton is licensed pharmacist, CEO and owner of Drugco Pharmacies, and serves on the N.C. Board of Pharmacy. He resides in Littleton.
Dr. Jimmie “Wayne” Riggins is an optometrist from Fayetteville. He is currently an assistant professor at Campbell University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Dr. Michael Riccobene is a licensed dentist with 35 branches of his firm, Riccobene Associates Family Dentistry. He serves on the UNC Dental School Board of Advisors and is from Wilmington.
George Sweet, Jr. was appointed as the Professional Engineer/Soil Scientist Member. He is from Saluda, worked for Duke Energy for 35 years and is on the Macon County Watershed Council as well as the Little Tennessee Watershed Association.
Sharon West is a registered nurse who was first appointed by former Gov. Pat McCrory. As she is still on the commission, Cooper must have reappointed her, however, unlike the other appointees, no press statement could be located on the governor’s website for her reappointment.
One of Cooper’s appointees is not in the medical or public-health-related fields. Greg Hatem is in real estate and is the founder of Empire Properties. Among the properties his firm has redeveloped are restaurants in downtown Raleigh, such as Sitti and the Raleigh Times.
Hatem, a registered Democrat, has also been a generous donor to Cooper, giving three donations to his 2020 campaign totaling $10,800 and three donations totaling $10,200 in 2016. Hatem has also given tens of thousands of dollars to a long list of other state and federal candidates over the last decade, the majority of them Democrats. He’s given at least $10,000 to the N.C. Democratic Leadership Committee in the last two years.
Including Hatem, six of the 13 commission members have given donations to Cooper.
Gordon, a Democrat, gave Cooper’s campaign $10,800 in 2020 and $10,200 in 2016. Riggins, also a registered Democrat, donated $6,000 in 2016 and $1,825 in 2020 to Cooper.
Patel had a mix of donations, in 2016 giving $2,600 to Cooper and $250 to Pat McCrory. The following election cycle, Patel gave Cooper’s campaign $2,700. Voter registration information for Patel was not found at the State Board of Elections.
Chaplin, a Democrat, had donated moderately in the past to candidates like Mike Easley and Barack Obama, but only gave Cooper $250 in 2020.
Minton and Riccobene are the only Republicans on the commission, but both are Cooper appointees. Records show Minton has donated over $50,000 in the past 14 years, split almost evenly between Republican and Democrat candidates. Riccobene was found to have given Dan Forest $10,600 in the 2020 cycle, amongst the $66,200 in campaign donations he has made across the last 13 years.
The next NCCPH meeting will be on Feb. 2, 2022. The meeting will be held via Cisco WebEx Events, but the access details have not yet been published.