Yellow Medicine County to reopen offices to public Monday
The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners approved action to reopen county offices to the public on Monday. They informally agreed not to set a date for all employees to return to their county work locations. Department heads are developing plans for the return of employees now working remotely.
GRANITE FALLS — Yellow Medicine County will reopen its doors to the public on June 1, but not all of its employees will be required to return.
The County Board of Commissioners approved a motion at its meeting Tuesday to reopen the county offices to the public. Commissioners debated whether to set a date to require all employees to return to their county work locations as well, but did not do so. They informally agreed to allow department heads to determine how to bring back employees now working remotely.
The reopening of the offices to the public will include a host of safety precautions. Plexiglass shields will be installed at counters, and people are asked to come alone and without children. People will be urged but not required to wear face masks.
Through the pandemic, about 70 percent of county employees have worked in their county work locations, while the remaining 30 percent have worked remotely, according to County Administrator Angie Steinbach.
A number of employees in the Family Services Department are following Department of Health guidelines for them and working remotely. Rae Ann Keeler Aus, director of family services, said she plans to bring employees back in phases. She currently has 12 employees working in the office, out of a total staff of 36. She said some of her employees are seeking to return to the office, while others are concerned about the potential health risk.
In response to questions from the commissioners, she said their concerns are based both on the risk of contact with the public as well as other employees. It was noted in discussions that some staff live near the South Dakota border and have crossed the border and potentially visited types of businesses that have not been open in Minnesota.
The family services director and other department heads are looking at rotating the return of employees, so that a department’s entire staff is not back on the county premises at the same time.
County Attorney Keith Helgeson told the commissioners that his office has been staffed by an administrative assistant, while he and the two assistant county attorneys have worked remotely. Bringing the attorneys back to the office at the same time risks the possibility of all being infected, he told the commissioners. In such a situation, he would have to hire out for legal assistance as they recover. That would be very expensive, he said.
Highway Department employees have continued to work through the pandemic. County Engineer Andrew Sanders said the main concern among highway employees is the possibility of infection when traveling together to job sites.
Law enforcement, dispatch and jail staff have been working on site through the pandemic. Sheriff Bill Flaten said his department would call on help from the state if officers were to become ill. Inmates would be boarded elsewhere if the COVID-19 virus were to spread among the jail’s correctional officers, he added.
The commissioners said they would like to see staff back on site and some noted they would favor setting dates to do so. Commissioner Gary Johnson was among those expressing concerns about indefinitely allowing employees to work remotely during the pandemic. He pointed out that the virus could persist for years.
“By all means we’ve got to have a plan, have to have something in front of us (that) says this is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” said Commissioner Ron Antony, who also expressed his desire for a timetable for the return of employees.
Board chair John Berends said he favored allowing department heads to determine how best to bring back employees. He also said the county “needs to remain flexible” and should be prepared to dial back activities if necessary as well.
“It’s hard to predict anything, how this is going to shake out,” he said in reference to dealing with the pandemic.