• Last modified 789 days ago (March 26, 2020)


Marion County courthouse locked down

Closure in effect until March 31, commission meetings will be streamed on the Internet

Staff writer

As of Monday, the county courthouse is locked down except during county commission meetings.

The move is in response to COVID-19 concerns, which commissioners discussed in a special meeting Friday morning.

Commissioners will reconsider whether to keep the closure in effect on March 31.

Residents who need to take care of business at a county office can phone or email the office, state their reason, and an employee will come to the door and let them in.

During county commission meetings, which are required by state law to be open to the public, the south door of the building will remain unlocked. People coming to the courthouse for the meeting will be screened by a deputy and an emergency medical service employee. If they have two or more factors that put them at high risk of COVID-19, they will not be admitted.

Meetings will also be streamed on the Internet.

Commission chairman Jonah Gehring appeared by Internet himself Friday. Gehring is in self-imposed quarantine after spending time at Vail, Colorado, just before Gov. Laura Kelly announced travel sanctions for several areas in Colorado.

County counsel Brad Jantz told commissioners Friday that guidance from the state was changing rapidly, but meetings have to be open to the public. Virtual meetings are permitted.

One county had a meeting similar to Friday’s meeting, which could be attended online but also allowed people to enter the room. Fewer chairs were set out for the public, and few people showed up.

Jantz said one county held a meeting in that same way Marion County did, and commissioners were surprised to see 15 people show up.

Another county has decided not to hold meetings for two weeks unless an emergency meeting needs to be held.

Commissioner Dianne Novak said she wouldn’t be opposed to taking the same action, but as long as staff is working in the office, she didn’t want to completely close the courthouse.

Commissioner Randy Dallke asked Jantz and county clerk Tina Spencer about employee pay issues.

Spencer said if employees were furloughed, they would have to be paid two weeks’ sick pay. If furloughs need to be extended, employees must be allowed to use Family and Medical Leave Act protections. That law allows employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave.

Spencer said some staffers will have to be allowed to work from home, such as those with underlying medical conditions. Those must be paid 2/3 of their regular pay.

Novak asked if employees can be required to use up any acquired sick leave until it runs out. Jantz said they cannot.

Spencer said there are a few options already available for people furloughed or laid off from their jobs. Couriers and delivery drivers are needed by those in health care. She suggested employees might be reassigned to those duties.

Dallke said if employees are offered alternate duties and decline, they can be furloughed.

Commissioners expressed other concerns.

Novak said Marion’s businesses are frail and wondered what the town would look like when the COVID-19 scenario is over.

Last modified March 26, 2020