Courthouse closed to public two more weeks

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Bourbon County Courthouse will remain closed to the public at least until April 5.

The decision was made during a special Bourbon County Commission meeting held via teleconference Monday morning.

The courthouse was closed last week due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Currently there is no active COVID-19 confirmation in the courthouse, Bourbon County Counselor Justin Meeks said.

Following a 30-minute executive session with Meeks, Emergency Manager William Wallis and Information Technology Coordinator Shane Walker, commissioners voted on how to pay employees.

Hourly employees who are sent home will continue to receive their regular hourly pay. Hourly employees who continue to work – sheriff’s office, corrections and landfill – will be paid double time. Employees will not use sick or vacation time.

“There should be absolutely no overtime during this pandemic,” Commission Chairman Lynne Oharah said. “We need to make sure we control that as much as we can. We just cannot afford to spend our reserves.”

Fischer said if an employee has to be quarantined, that could create an overtime situation.

“It could, but we need to face that when it arises,” Oharah said, adding no staff is mandatorily quarantined at this time.

Some salaried employees, such as Wallis, Walker and Meeks, continue to work.

Oharah read an email from the Kansas Association of Counties clarifying government employees’, officials’ and volunteers’ immunity from liability when working pursuant to declared emergencies, which includes pandemics. Immunity does not apply to “willful misconduct, gross negligence or bad faith relating to precautionary measures.

To avoid willful misconduct, gross negligence or bad faith, those engaging in these activities should be free of symptoms, including fever and engage in all precautionary measures – covering coughs, sneezes, disinfecting, hand washing, personal protection equipment, social distancing, etc.”

Oharah said Wallis distributed the email to all department heads and city leaders on March 19.

On Monday, Wallis was given authority to discuss the email with department heads and Walker was given the authority to discuss facility constraints and accommodations with department heads.

Public needs

Commissioner Jeff Fischer pointed out the provisions in the public health official’s mandate that allow some offices, such as the register of deeds, treasurer and clerk’s offices to continue to work.

“This order wouldn’t prevent them from going and taking care of necessary business, it would limit their ability to take serve people at the counter,” Fischer said.

Meeks said each county office on the first floor will have different procedures to conduct business with the public, but those details are still being worked out, he said.

He said most needs with the treasurer’s office can be taken care of online, but other offices may use a drop box.

Commissioners gave Walker the authority to move forward on modifications to work with department heads to interact with the public.

Other motions passed

• Commissioners also cancelled their Tuesday and March 31 meetings. Emergency meetings will be held as necessary.

• Oharah was given permission to speak with the county attorney regarding matters concerning her job function.

District court

Oharah said he received an email from the Kansas 6th Judicial District and a press release from the Kansas Courts.

The 6th Judicial District issued an order on March 17 by Chief Judge Amy Harth, announcing all non-essential court proceedings are continued until April 15. Judges will decide which cases are essential. All jury trials will be continued and rescheduling will be done by the appropriate division. If a hearing proceeds, all parties involved will be expected to follow the Kansas Supreme Court order, and may be asked screening questions before entering the building.

“As this situation is rapidly changing, this order will be updated as necessary,” the order states.

“At this time, if you’re represented by an attorney, please contact your attorney for procedures that have changed with our district court,” Meeks said. “At this point, the district court, for all intents and purposes, is closed except for emergency hearings.”

“What’s unique about Fort Scott and Bourbon County with our courthouse is that our administrative building and courthouse are a combined structure,” Meeks said.

On March 18, the Kansas Supreme Court issued an administrative order directing all district and appellate courts to cease all but emergency operations until further notice.

The only exception allows jury trials already underway to proceed.

The order will be reevaluated after two weeks.

“This is an extraordinary measure to match the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chief Justice Marla Luckert. “We have a duty to protect the people who come into our courthouse and courtrooms as well as our employees and judges. This action allows us to fulfill court functions while reducing in-person contact.”

During an emergency meeting held Sunday evening, commissioners signed the COVID-19 Public Health Resolution.

Meeks said Monday that resolution is required to assist the county in receiving state and federal emergency funding.

He also reminded the public the local public health officer issued an order at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, which limits which businesses can remain open and operation procedures to ensure the health and safety of employees and the public.

That order can be found elsewhere in this edition of the Tribune as well as on the public health department’s website.

“This is a very serious time and I know we are taking steps from our perspective to try and protect the public and our employees,” Oharah said. “We are hoping everybody can stay safe and follow the guidelines that have been set forth by public health.”

“Looking at the models that project the impact of this virus, our only hope is to do a Hubei lockdown,” Fischer said.

He referred to projections he has seen online, which “suggested somewhere in the coming week there is a point of no return.

He said every person with the virus infects four other, who in turn each infect four more.

“This is kind of how this thing grows,” Fischer said. “With effective measures, including lockdown, and those kind of things, is really the only thing that can be done. Johnson County reached the threshold where it’s spreading through the community, testing procedure changes and they assume everyone is a carrier and the tests then are used only in hospitals.”

“You’ve hit the nail on the head,” Meeks said. “This is going to be a long procedure. Will made the comment we’re just at the starting point of this. We’re following the lead the best we can from the experts.”