Franklin County Commissioners held an emergency meeting March 19 to pass ordinances and resolutions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the seats for the audience in the commissioner/council meeting room in the top of the government center are typically arranged in neat rows, seats for this meeting were evenly distributed with several feet between each. A directive from the governor limits public meetings to a total of 10 people; a few minutes before the meeting was set to begin, nine people were present and several county officials were still in the commissioner’s office. The county’s department heads were dismissed and told they would be updated after the meeting; county councilman Joe Sizemore, Emergency Management Executive Director Amy Lindsey and local media representatives remained and were soon joined by commissioners Tom Linkel and Gerald Wendel, secretary Fayetta Haye and auditor Karla Bauman.

Commission vice-president Tom Linkel began the meeting by proclaiming Franklin County as part of the local disaster emergency as the county has been affected.

The meeting continued with the passing of Ordinance 2020-6, a declaration for emergency circumstances. Commissioners worked with Bauman, county attorney Grant Reeves and Lindsey to draft the ordinance. It establishes policies to cover office closures, county employee pay and telework.
County offices are currently all working, but if it is determined to begin closing departments or offices, all county employees will continue to receive their regular pay. If applicable, employees will be able to work from home.

The situation is rapidly evolving. If employees are determined to be essential, they will receive additional straight time pay. If departments do close, employees will be required to remain on call during their regular work hours.

Employees that had already scheduled vacation, sick leave or a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) absence will have their paid time off deducted as planned. Employees who take sick leave or FMLA leave may apply for COVID-19 relief with the proper paperwork from their healthcare provider.
The ordinance also establishes the county’s ability to set restricted travel protocols.

Next, commissioners passed Ordinance 2020-9 establishing an emergency public health account. It is likely the county will need to purchase equipment or supplies; any expenses relating to the county’s response to a public health emergency will be paid out of this fund.

This will ensure all COVID-19 related expenses are easily accounted for. Commissioners hope the county may be able to apply for disaster relief reimbursement from state or federal funds in the future.

The State Board of Accounts generally places strict and specific restrictions on what expenses can come from each fund, resulting in each department of municipal governments having a myriad of very specialized accounting funds. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state significantly relaxed these regulations. Additionally, Bauman explained, the state has announced municipalities will not need to go through the normal additional appropriation procedure. If anything is needed, the municipality should purchase it with any money available, even if it is not in the correct fund.

“We’re going to move forward, we’ll straighten it out in the end,”Linkel said.

Commissioners agreed to start the fund with $25,000 and will readdress the funding if needed.

Ordinance 2020-10 temporarily allows county employees to continue to receive paid time off (PTO) if needed, once they have used all of their accrued time. If an employee is required to take time off due to a COVID diagnosis, personally or a family member, they may go into a negative PTO balance. The policy will continue until terminated by the commissioners.

Resolution 2020-6 formally declares emergency circumstances exist in the county. It authorizes the auditor to pay any necessary claims prior to being approved by commissioners in a scheduled meeting. Prior to paying claims, the auditor should obtain approval from at least one commissioner; however, if the commissioners cannot be reached, the auditor is authorized to pay the claims. Commissioners will review and ratify the claims when meetings do resume.

Linkel stated “We are preparing for the worst case scenario, that’s what it amounts to. If two commissioners get sick and can’t reply, one commissioner can carry on and approve claims. If all three of us are sick and unavailable, Karla can approve her own claims and carry on.”

Commissioners discussed temporary changes made to board meeting policies established by the governor. While the state of emergency continues, only one voting member needs to be physically present to hold a meeting.

Other members may phone into the meeting to vote as a voting quorum must still be met. Bauman will contact the county’s IT consultant to set up a teleconference system.