No fooling, county sets April 1 to reopen
Access to courthouse, county buildings has been limited since November
Access to the courthouse and other government buildings in Taylor County will return to normal on April 1.
Building access has been restricted since November when COVID-19 numbers began to spike in the county. The primary concern was with members of the public bringing the virus into the courthouse and getting government workers sick. By limiting access, the goal was to keep government running.
With numbers of new cases plummeting in the county in recent weeks, members of the executive committee met last week to review building access and look ahead to a time when things could return to normal.
Taylor County Circuit Court Judge Ann Knox-Bauer supported reopening the main doors to the courthouse. She said that through COVID-19 they had been doing many court functions online, but that the goal was to gradually switch over to in-person appearances. “It is a lot easier to have people come into the courtrooms,” Knox-Bauer said. County plans to reopen public access to courthouse, buildings April 1
County clerk Andria Farrand questioned if people had expressed being unhappy with how the access is being handled now. Those wishing to access the courthouse must wait between the doors to be buzzed in. “We aren’t turning anyone away,” Farrand said, noting that having people get buzzed allowed them to monitor who was in the building. Health director Patty Krug noted that many courthouses around the state are routinely kept locked, or have their entrances monitored by security officers as a safety measure. Any discussion on doing it for a safety measure would be part of the courthouse security plan and not be based on the public health crisis due to COVID-19.
Krug said they already have the ability to shut access to the building down in case COVID-19 cases go up again. “With the pandemic we already have the ability to lock the courthouse,” she said.
Knox-Bauer said the public has the right to come in and view the court in action. “You really can’t lock the courthouse,” she said, noting anyone has the right to free and ungifted access to the courts.
Committee member Lester Lewis noted that with the buzzer system in place the county would have the ability to lock down the building quickly for whatever reasons.
Committee member Scott Mildbrand said he felt it was important to take COVID-19 seriously but that the goal should be to return things to normal as quickly as possible. He said he thinks elected officials will either allow things to come back to normal or not allow it to return to normal.
“I think our board should be normal. We might have to back up again later, but this is a beginning,” he said.
Lewis agreed saying that the county should open but continue to monitor access. “We can’t stay closed forever for COVID. If we have an outbreak we have the ability to close down again,” he said. “The mechanics are there, we could do it that day or the next day.”
While discussion focused on the courthouse, committee member Chuck Zenner said he felt reopening applied to all county buildings. He made a motion for the buildings to open on April 1 pending any major community flare ups. Mildbrand said he would have preferred a March 14 date, but said that he could agree with April 1. “We are lucky right now that cases in Taylor County have really dropped,” he said.
While the buildings will reopen to the general public, those entering them will be required to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“We are only going to get back to normal, if the government lets us get back to normal,” Mildbrand said.
The opening order also applies to county buildings such as the fairgrounds. These would still be limited for total occupancy under the governor’s order to 25% occupancy. However, it was noted the county has no real means to enforce that occupancy.
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Currently those needing to do business at the courthouse must make appointments ahead of time and be buzzed in at the front door.
BRIAN WILSON/THE STAR NEWS