By Tammy Gray
An agenda item that may have otherwise been summarily approved by the Navajo County Board of Supervisors Tuesday drew scrutiny when District III Supervisor Sylvia Allen pointed out that it put the county on a slippery slope toward government interference in private business.
County health district officials were seeking board approval to use First Things First funds to establish a “healthy store initiative” as part of a nutrition education and obesity prevention program at Lukachukai Trading Post, Teec Nos Pos Trading Post and Rocky Ridge General Store. In the end, the board gave that approval.
Nutrition Program Manager Cherilyn Yazzie explained that the program would include educational programs at the trading posts that encourage residents to purchase and prepare healthy foods. It would also encourage storeowners to stock healthy foods such as fresh produce.
“I’m not saying that what you’re trying to do is wrong,” Allen said, noting that she supports education nutrition and the goals of the program to establish healthy eating habits from a young age. “What I’m talking about is the method we’re using to do it. Government is good at saying the ends justify the means.”
Allen noted that her problem is with the government going into a private business and trying to tell that business what to do.
“How far will the government go?” she said. “It bothers me a little bit that we’re moving in this direction.”
Joyce Hill, a member of the audience, asked to speak to the board, and noted that she shared Allen’s concerns with government overstepping its bounds and regulating what type of legal foods a business can sell.
“I have grave concerns. The government has no business getting involved in the free market. Where does it end? Right now it’s just education, but we all know where it will go. The government has no business telling stores what to sell,” Hill said.
District I Supervisor Jonathan Nez noted that he supports the intentions of the program and believes that it will help citizens make better choices.
“The cheapest foods are often the most unhealthy. It’s a hard sell, but bringing healthier foods into our stores is commendable,” he said.
Chairman Jesse Thompson echoed Nez’s position, noting that he did not believe the program would cross the line and interfere with the function of private business. He also asked the health department to report back to the board if there appeared to be any problems.
Vice Chairman David Tenney explained that he would have a problem if the program tried to tell stores what foods they could and couldn’t sell, but he does not believe it is an issue at this point.
“I don’t see it going that far at this point,” he said. “It still comes down to personal choice, so I don’t see the problem with education at this point.”
Yazzie told the board that the health department did not create the education plan, but is directed by a regional First Things First board on the direction to take with funding.
Allen noted that part of the problem with regional boards is that the citizens have no control or elected representatives to speak on their behalf.
“This (First Things First) is a program that was very broad when it was passed by the voters and over time it has changed. It is changed by the regional boards, not the legislature, and regional government can be dangerous. There is no oversight,” she said.
The board approved the memorandums of understanding for the program, with Allen casting the lone dissenting vote.
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By Tammy Gray