County to open offices under restrictions

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – Lee County Supervisors voted to open the North Lee County office building under some on-going health restrictions effective Aug. 3.

After a lengthy discussion at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, the Lee County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to open the North Lee County office building the first Monday in August.

Driver’s License services, specifically testing, will only be done by appointment, but the rest of the buildings will be open to county residents. Social distancing of six feet will be included as will a requirement to wear masks for entry.

Supervisor Rich Harlow said he’s been hearing from residents that it’s time to reopen the buildings to the public.

“The calls I’m getting are asking us to go forward, but also to strongly encourage everyone to wear masks,” Harlow said.

Lee County Treasurer Chris Spann said the Iowa Department of Transportation is still issuing guidance to do testing and driver’s license services by appointment only. She said she wasn’t sure if it was a mandate, or just strongly encouraged. Motor vehicle services such as registrations and title work will be open to customer flow.

Lee County Clerk of Court, Kim Londrie said she doesn’t believe the DOT appointment status is mandatory.

“People should be able to walk in, get their tags, go to Recorders office and do business and then walk across the aisle in North Lee County,” Londrie said.

“I think it should be open to the public, like it is across most of the state and at least in our own area.”

Londrie told the board she’d seen Lee County Department heads out and about at county businesses not wearing a mask.

“I see department heads going into stores, getting ice cream, and they don’t have masks on,” she said. “We need to work for the public. Judges have control over courtrooms, county has control over the buildings. The county bought 3,000 plus masks, We need to be passing those out.”

Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said the masks weren’t purchased for the public, but for employees to use. Londrie said that’s a lot of masks for just county employees, and Fraise said some departments like county roads have to change masks frequently.

Since closing the offices to the public, plexiglass partitions have been installed throughout the office building. North and South Lee County Court facilities, which are under the jurisdiction of the state supreme court, are still functioning as they have through the pandemic with stepped up safety guidelines and masks.

Lee County Recorder Nancy Booten said she wears a mask when out in public but sees people in the offices that are sneezing and coughing and she was in favor of an ordinance requiring all staff and customers to wear masks.

The board opted to not do an ordinance that would require readings, but a resolution at the direction of the counties retained attorneys.

Lee County Attorney Ross Braden said he didn’t think an ordinance was necessary, but a resolution could carry the same weight.

“A resolution would be different than an ordinance, but I think that’s reasonable to put the public on notice,” Braden said.

Fraise said the any mandate regarding facemasks could set the county up for a legal challenge from Governor Reynolds office. Muscatine just passed an ordinance requiring masks in public, and Fraise said they are currently being challenged by the state.

The county has also hired three temporary security officials for the county’s three office buildings and court houses to enforce safety measures within the buildings.

“What happens when they come in without a mask,” asked Supervisor Matt Pflug.

Londrie said they’ve only had one person who didn’t want to wear a mask for a court proceeding. Staff told them that person to put on a mask or security would be called, and the individual put on the mask.

The two senior centers, The Heritage Center in Keokuk and Newberry Center in Fort Madison, will be kept closed. Fraise said Milestones Area Agency On Aging indicated it would be a while before they begin preparing meals again.

In other action, the board:
• approved, 5-0. a modification of the county’s five-year secondary roads program to include erosion control work on Valley Road that is subsidized with environmental work grants. The work has a price tag of $369,000.
• approved, 5-0, a resolution supporting the Lee County Board of Health position statement encouraging cancellation of all large public events.

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