Posted on

County board declares emergency

County board declares emergency County board declares emergency

Emergency committee formed, but board still retains oversight

Taylor County may be in a state of emergency, but elected leaders are still answerable to voters.

On March 19, the Taylor County Board called a special session with the only agenda item to approve declaring a state of emergency. The resolution streamlines and consolidates government functions putting most routine authority into the hands of an emergency executive committee that is be made up of of the following: County Board Chair or designee, emergency management director, human resource manager/administrative coordinator, a health department representative, a human services department representative and a sheriff’s department representative. The committee will be charged with carrying out the county’s emergency plans.

Supervisor Mike Bub said he understood the reason for the declaration of a state of emergency, but questioned who would actually be serving on the emergency committee and what power it would have in relation to the county board.

According to corporation counsel Courtney Graff, the assumption is that the department heads of those county agencies would serve on the committee with the option of having alternative representatives if their directors are sick or quarantined.

“If the county board is uncomfortable with a decision they make, can a county board meeting be called? Is the county board still in power?” Bub asked. “The county board oversees all committees,” Graff replied, assuring board members that the county board retains authority.

Bub also questioned the duration of the county’s state of emergency. The county’s resolution leaves it open-ended, while Bub noted others he has seen in the state have set limits such as expiring after 60 days unless renewed. Graff noted that it is tied to the governor’s declaration of a state of emergency and that the county’s would be in place as long as the state’s was.

Supervisor Ray Soper expressed concern over the emergency committee taking over the roll of the personnel committee.

Graff assured board members that any action the committee takes needs to be necessary under the emergency. “This power is temporarily vested in this committee,” she said. She also noted that supervisors are welcome to attend any of the committee’s meetings since they will be posted and open to the public. She also noted that the declaration does not prevent other committees from meeting. Supervisor Scott Mildbrand asked about physical attendance at meetings. Under the resolution, “any rule requiring physical attendance at any meetings of the board is being hereby suspended during the period of emergency and the county board supervisors are hereby authorized to attend meetings of the board remotely and the board shall take all actions necessary to effectuate the same in compliance with all other applicable laws.”

Mildbrand questioned the mechanics of this when signatures are required such as for approval of the bills or passage of ordinances. “Does the committee chairman have the authority to initial it?” Mildbrand asked.

“Great question,” Graff responded, noting it was new territory for everyone.

Supervisor Lester Lewis, who appeared by phone at the March 19 meeting, suggested that signatures be emailed to the county and added to the documents electronically. He noted the minutes would indicate that they were approved.

Supervisor Ed Hinkel favored having the committee chairman sign on anything that needed to be done.

Supervisor Gene Knoll raised another question with appearing remotely. State law requires a county board session in April for reorganization following the spring election. He questioned how people appearing remotely could be sworn into office and what it would do for committee election. “How do we handle those things?”

“At this point we will have to see what happens,” said county human resources director Marie Koerner. “We are trying to do the best we can for the moment we are in,” she said.

“We don’t know how it will work. We have to take it as it comes,” she said, noting one of the goals is to limit courthouse access to fall under the limits set by the governor and the state health officials.

Bub noted that elected bodies are one of the exemptions to the limits on gathering. “We can meet and you have the choice to call in,” Bub said.

“Our main goal is to keep functioning here,” Koerner said.

Supervisor Dave Roiger questioned if the county had processes in place to track expenses related to the state of emergency in case there was ever any legislation to recover some of those costs at the state or federal level.

Mildbrand suggested that it may be easier to authorize a set amount of money, such as up to $50,000 for the committee to be able to spend on the crisis. Roiger said he was concerned with the vacancies in the sheriff’s department and if there is a plan in place to cover the needed overtime.

Sheriff Larry Woebbeking said they are short-staffed with three vacation positions. He said it would hit them hard if deputies started to get sick.

Not everyone was in favor of declaring an emergency. Supervisor Rollie Thums admonished the board for not stepping up in the crisis.

“We are turning it over to seven people who were not elected. I don’t think it is right. I don’t think that it is right at all,” Thums said.

“You need to get off your damned ass and act like adults and not panicked little people,” Thums said, telling his fellow supervisors that they are not doing the people who elected them a service by “throwing up your hands and saying it is someone else’s job.”

“It is just another step to losing power to the people,” Thums said.

Graff said the power of the committee is limited. “It is not the golden baton saying you are the king or queen of Taylor County,” she said.

For his part, supervisor Chuck Zenner said he had “full faith” in the people that will serve on the committee. It was also noted that the elected board is represented by county board chairman Jim Metz.

Graff noted that board members would still receive minutes and that the open meetings laws are still in affect even under the emergency declaration.

“Y ou