County officials dig into which depts. have not returned to work

Board of Supervisors
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     With offices and departments within the Jones County Courthouse fully open or continuing to be open by appointment, County Supervisor Jeff Swisher urged other departments in other parts of the county to do the same.

     The conversation began during the March 9 board of supervisor meeting with whether or not the courthouse needed to continue health screenings at the west entrance of the courthouse. Department heads who work within the courthouse all felt that needed to remain in place.

     Auditor Whitney Hein said the county still had money in the General Services Fund to cover wages for door security.

     “I’m working to see if we can get this reimbursed by FEMA,” Hein said, due to the ongoing COVID needs.

     Sheriff Greg Graver said with roughly 200 entering the courthouse per day, and more and more traffic coming through the Treasurer’s Office, he’d suggest keeping door security.

     “We need to be accountable for the increase in numbers at the door,” he said.

     In terms what other county courthouses are doing, Graver said the rules and regulations are all over the place.

     “On the positive side,” remarked Supervisor Joe Oswald, “we’ve been able to keep our offices open.”

     “Linn County is still locked up tight as a drum,” offered Treasurer Amy Picray.

     Graver said his office made its own changes internally in terms of precautionary measures.

     “Those procedures went a long way,” he said. “A lot of other agencies didn’t take precautions and had outbreaks.”

     He said the county needs to retain a balance between the need to hurry up and reopen versus easing into things as people continue to get vaccinated.

     “Is now the time?” proposed Graver. “There is still a risk at this point.”

     He encouraged the supervisors to continue health screenings for another month and reevaluate then.

     County Attorney Kristofer Lyons said court services are all in-person now, which means more people coming through the door. He, also, wants to see the screenings continue.

     “From a practical perspective, having more security in the building versus opening multiple entrances is needed,” he said. “We haven’t yet crossed the threshold with COVID. I know people are anxious.”

     Picray said her staff is prepared either way, but plans to continue appointments for driver’s license services.

     “It means we can control the number of people coming into the courthouse,” she said.

     Picray also favored one entrance rather than a “free for all.”

     Supervisor Jon Zirkelbach asked Picray if customers liked the idea of scheduling an appointment versus coming in and waiting to be seen.

     “People enjoy the schedule because they’re in and out in 20 minutes,” Picray said, compared to what used to be an hour or more wait.

     From a revenue standpoint, Picray said her office is trying to increase the number of licenses being issued.

     “We need to bring in more money,” she said.

     Recorder Sheri Jones said business will soon pick up in her office as well with fishing, hunting, and ATV licenses, as well as passport pictures. She said she’s also received calls from Linn County residents wanting to do business in Jones County.

     Jones added that people from outside of Jones County like that they can come to the Jones County Courthouse and get a lot of business done in one visit at multiple offices.

     While the board approved keeping security at the west entrance, they voted to table the opening of all county facilities and offices to the public.

     Swisher said the decision to open all departments shouldn’t just apply to those within the courthouse, but all facilities.

     Hein said the resolution the board of supervisors passed in 2020 required non-elected department heads to seek authorization from the supervisors to allow those employees to work from home.

     “I don’t know who was keeping track of that,” she said.

     Swisher said county departments cannot be virtual forever; at some point, employees need to return to work in-person.

     “If we’re open (for business), then they have to come back,” he said.

     A couple of exceptions were discussed, however, including Senior Dining and Public Health. Supervisor Ned Rohwedder said congregant meals has not been cleared to take place yet.

     From the JCPH perspective, Community Health Specialist Jess Wiedenhoff offered, “We haven’t reached herd immunity yet within the community.”

     JCPH Coordinator Jenna Lovaas said right now, her staff are working seven days a week due to the COVID vaccination clinics. That would not be possible if they returned to their offices in Anamosa.

     “We continue to function as we currently do because that’s the most efficient versus sitting in the office,” she said. “Our goal is to get back to a normal schedule. None of us wants to work these hours.” (JCPH officials are not full-time county employees.)

     In a normal year, Lovaas said the majority of her staff work outside of the office anyways. It’s rare to have walk-in services at Public Health.

     “We maybe have someone in the office two or three days a week,” she said, referencing a none-COVID year.

     Swisher asked if JCPH could work within their office (located at the Broadway Annex), but lock the door to the public. Lovaas said the public would still show up wanting to inquire about the vaccine.

     Zirkelbach felt that allowing JCPH to work from home makes them more efficient and offers more value when you take out their drive time to and from work.

     “Most people are happy with us,” Lovaas said. “They can get ahold of us. We’re flexible, which is necessary right now.”

     Lovaas shared that the Iowa Department of Public Health offices are also closed to the public, with everyone working remotely, too.

     Paula Hart with Environmental Health and Susan Yario with Veterans Affairs both said their clients are being taken care of and services are being met. They are also screening people at the door, requiring masks of the public.

     “I’m fine with being open,” Yario said.

     “It’d be a different story if we were getting complaints if employees were not doing their job,” said Oswald.

     Graver asked the supervisors if they all knew whether or not all county employees across all departments were even showing up to work or doing their jobs.

     “What’s concerning is you, as their boss, don’t know,” he added. “How do you expect the public to know (if the offices are open or not)?

     “What’s best for everybody is to find out who is coming to work and who are not,” continued Graver. “There is a reason these departments are not open. They’re slipping under the cracks. If you expect us to open and serve the public, why not others (departments)?”

     “Are we supposed to micromanage every department?” proposed Zirkelbach.

     “You’re the boss; you’re responsible for knowing whether they’re coming to work or not,” Graver said. “We’re past this being a free-for-all.”

     The board directed Hein to send out an email to all county department heads to get a handle on which departments were still working from home or not.


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