County offices remain open on limited basis

Monday, May 4, 2020

Any changes in the way Putnam County government offices do business in the face of COVID-19 are going to come in increments.

With Gov. Eric Holcomb announcing his “Back on Track Indiana” plan on Friday, the Putnam County Commissioners had their first chance to react on Monday morning.

County officials are choosing to take it slowly, extending the current plan (in place since March 24) by another two weeks, up to and including May 18.

Key points of the current plan include:

1) All county offices should be staffed with the appropriate number of personnel to manage essential office functions. This shall be determined by the elected official or department head, but at least one person shall be in office from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

2) Courthouse access will remain the same: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Fridays or by appointment, in advance, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.

3) The County Commissioners strongly encourage the use of masks while out in public and at the Courthouse as well as the continued practice of social distancing.

4) The monthly meetings of the County BZA (7 p.m. May 11) and Plan Commission (6:30 p.m. May 14) will occur as scheduled. Details about remote attendance will be determined later.

The Indiana Supreme Court had already determined that May 18 would be when courts are to start ramping back up, so that is likely to mean an increase in foot traffic at the courthouse.

County Attorney Jim Ensley advised, however, this will not mean a return to what was going on before March 24.

“Even after the 18th, it won’t just be the floodgates are open,” Ensley said.

Even as restrictions begin to lift, courthouse access will remain through just the east door so that courthouse security officers may continue screening guests.

“A lot of the county employees seem to like it as it is,” Officer Jerry Campbell reported.

There was discussion Monday of continuing security measures such as limited access even after the pandemic is over, but no decision was made. The subject of increased courthouse security has been a discussion for several years.

The decision to give department heads more discretion in bringing back more employees sprang from discussion with Auditor Lorie Hallett, Assessor Janet Brown and County Planner Don Hatfield, all of whom said it would be beneficial to have a bit more staff to keep up with demands coming in.

Brown emphasized that she would feel comfortable with half staffing levels so that only half of her people are there at once. This would be beneficial if someone on the staff were to contract COVID-19, so the entire staff would not have to quarantine.

“I think with half staff, we can keep up with the major stuff,” Hallett added later.

Hatfield, whose department has just three people, would like to get back to something resembling normal. He said demands for building permits are high.

However, he also liked the idea of meeting people on an appointment basis, as there is no way to pre-screen people at the Building and Planning Department’s small office.

After discussion, the commissioners and department heads seemed to be thinking similar plans.

“I’m a fan of starting to bring some people back, maybe not full crews but more than we have been,” Commissioner Rick Woodall said. “I’m a fan of doing it two weeks at a time.”

One other decision on the not-too-distant horizon is how to facilitate early voting at the Courthouse, with the Clerk’s Office having already announced that it will be available on the second floor beginning on Tuesday, May 26.

A further plan on how to deal with early voting and the possibility of continued social distancing will be discussed.

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