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FLORENCE — Two months after narrowly voting to reject it, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, sitting as the Pinal Public Health District board, voted to accept a $3.3 million grant to help bring COVID vaccines to the county’s underserved populations.

Board member Jeff McClure, R-Eagle Crest Ranch, reversed his earlier vote to help approve the “vaccine equity” grant 3-2 at Wednesday’s meeting. Board members Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, and Jeff Serdy, R-Apache Junction, continued their “no” votes.

“I think it’s a waste of money to hire a vaccine equity coordinator … when we could do this much better on a local level,” Cavanaugh said. He asked Pinal Public Health Director Tascha Spears Wednesday if she was still opposed to Pinal County funding vaccine equity efforts itself, perhaps over three years, rather than accepting the grant.

Spears replied that the health department has “immediate needs and immediate requests,” but Cavanaugh’s idea was “certainly something that we can look at long-term.”

Board Vice Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, asked Spears if this grant would “help you do what you need to do.” She replied, “Unequivocally, yes.”

Cavanaugh said that while he believes people should have the vaccine if they want it, he would vote against the grant “because I think it’s the wrong thing financially, logistically. I think us as a local government can move much more nimbly to help people get the vaccines, like our office did in District 1.”

He said when vaccines first became available, his office personnel were on the phone all the time helping people make appointments.

Cavanaugh voted no despite a “friendly amendment” he offered, which was accepted. His amendment stated the health department or its designees shall not assist the U.S. government in enforcing federal orders related to quarantine and isolation. If Pinal County learns of any such mandate, the health department will immediately notify the clerk of the board, who will schedule a special session to discuss action.

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer told the board that if terms of the grant change and the board objects, the board may opt out of the grant with 30 days’ notice. The board would not have to repay any funds already properly spent, Volkmer said.

Volkmer said the grant does not require or force anyone to be vaccinated. “It’s not what this grant is about,” he said.

The grant first appeared to pass unanimously on a simple voice vote, until Serdy commented that “for the record, I didn’t vote. It’s still convoluted.” This led to a discussion of the board’s rules, and several minutes later a roll call vote, in which Serdy and Cavanaugh voted no.

The board had received six email comments from citizens in support of the grant, and a few other comments from speakers in-person opposed to it. An Oracle man said the grant is “based on a false COVID narrative” and is open for waste and abuse.

Luke Myers of Coolidge said it’s not about the money, which is relatively little in the county’s overall budget, but about principle. “We don’t need the vaccination pocket change.”

An Oracle woman said everyone already knows where to get the shot, and “we need to stop government overreach.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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