Commissioners change emergency pay schedule

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bourbon County Commissioners met Tuesday morning to amend the pay schedule for employees when an emergency declaration is issued.

During a special meeting Monday, commissioners voted to keep the courthouse closed to the public until April 5. The courthouse was closed to the public beginning March 17 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Non-essential hourly employees are now required to stay home as much as possible, while essential employees continue working.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted to pay non-essential hourly employees their regular pay during this time. Essential employees – sheriff’s office, corrections, EMS, landfill employees, and public works when needed – will be paid time-and-a-half. Overtime hours will be paid as double-time.

Salaried employees are to work as necessary.

Commissioners also voted to give proxy to Human Resources Director Deb Schoenberg the authority to sign the emergency pay schedule resolution.

On Monday, Commission Chairman Lynne Oharah said overtime needs to be controlled as much as possible.

“We just cannot afford to spend our reserves,” he said.

Tuesday’s vote rescinds the pay schedule commissioners announced during a special meeting Monday – non-essential hourly employees would be paid their regular pay and essential employees would be paid double-time.

On Tuesday, Commission Chairman Lynne Oharah said the pay schedule was adopted by the 2013 county commission when an emergency declaration was issued for a snowstorm. Essential employees for that emergency were law enforcement and public works.

“I had a conversation with our KCAMP personnel on how this pay could be handled at a county level and they told me we could change this policy by resolution,” Oharah said.

Oharah also encouraged everyone to follow Kansas Department of Human and Environmental Services guidelines – keep a 6-foot distance from others and limit travel as much as possible.

“We need to keep everyone safe,” Oharah said.

The decision to change the pay schedule during an emergency declaration followed a 15-minute executive session to discuss identifiable non-elected personnel.

“We are trying to work out some issues at the courthouse that will help us in containing the coronavirus in our daily operations,” Oharah said after reopening the public meeting.

He said IT Coordinator and Assistant Emergency Manager Shane Walker is working on many of those issues.

Oharah said they are also working through issues that will allow courthouse staff to provide services necessary to the public.

After the meeting, Oharah told the Tribune details on how services will be provided are being worked out, particularly with citizens needing to renew their tags at the treasurer’s office.

“I know Patty has been in there doing an awful lot of work,” Oharah said.

He said one option they are looking at is setting up a drop box.

On Monday, Commissioner Jeff Fischer said 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 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.

Courthouse changes

Meeks said after April 5, the public will not have access inside the courthouse “like they’re use to.”

He compared the courthouse to city hall, where there is one access and two public contact places. The courthouse has multiple access and contact points, he said.

Meeks said contractors were coming in to retrofit the courthouse so the building can be reopened and give the public limited access.

“It’s one of the reasons why the non-essential employees are not here right now, because of the access points to our building,” Meeks said.

He said there will be “a lot of information to give citizens of Bourbon County” after those changes are made.

After the meeting, Oharah told the Tribune in the future, employees will work from behind glass, similar to the way the Fort Scott city clerk’s office is set up.

“We have a tremendous amount of traffic goes through the courthouse,” Oharah said. “So even with that, we’re going to have to limit access to the courthouse, because we’re probably going to be cognizant of social distancing.”

Walker has been given the authority to “go through this scenario.” Oharah said he did not know if Walker is simply obtaining quotes for the work or “he may pull the trigger, I don’t know.”

“We’re going to do whatever we have to do to keep the public safe and provide services,” Oharah said.

Oharah said a meeting will be scheduled Monday. At this time, meetings are being held via telephone conference and shown live on the county’s Facebook page.

Prior to a 15-minute executive session Tuesday, Meeks said since Monday, the commissioners learned legally, there are some decisions regarding public health safety they cannot make. Meeks referred citizens to the Southeast Kansas Multi-county Health Department.

Monday’s meeting

On Monday, commissioners held a 30-minute executive session with Meeks, Emergency Manager William Wallis and Information Technology Coordinator Shane Walker.

The following actions were taken:

• 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

On Monday, 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.”

COVID-19 Public Health Resolution

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.”

On Monday, Fischer said, “In 20 days, there could be 2,131 cases in Bourbon County if life goes on like normal. The standard work order instruction improves our odds significantly.”