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Floyd County supervisors discuss county employee options during COVID-19 outbreak

By Bob Steenson,

The coronavirus was on the minds of the Floyd County Supervisors during a workshop meeting held electronically Monday morning.

With the three board members socially distanced in separate locations and conversing over telephone — a conference call that was also open to any interested public — the supervisors discussed how and how often to hold future meetings and whether the county should issue a COVID-19 disaster declaration.

But most of the time was spent discussing whether changes should be made in county employee work requirements, sick leave and possible other benefits, and whether any changes should be made to the employee handbook, either temporarily or permanently.

“We need to make it clear to everybody that, yes, we want to protect our employees, yes, we want to protect the public, and we still need to function,” said Supervisors Chairman Roy Schwickerath.

He said he wants to encourage the county department heads to look at options such as having employees working in different locations or from home so they don’t have to come into the courthouse, and to consider alternate work schedules.

Supervisor Doug Kamm said some departments such as Veterans Affairs have a hard time catching up with work they would like to get done.

“Maria is never able to use her vacation because there’s so many people down there,” Kamm said, referring to Maria Deike, the Veterans Affairs executive director.

“If somebody … wanted to go down there and help her, that would be splitting up some people. There’s a tremendous amount of scanning that would help her catch up with,” he said.

Kamm said the County Recorder’s Office also has a large amount of scanning to do, and maybe some departments with employees who are less busy could help with that.

County Auditor Gloria Carr suggested a conference call between department heads to discuss what their needs are during the coronavirus period, and which departments would have some employee hours that could be used elsewhere.

Schwickerath said, “My bottomline goal is, we want to keep our employees working. There’s alternatives, but bottom line to start with, we want to keep everybody working.”

He said the department heads and employees are “looking to us for guidance,” and he went through a list of considerations regarding potential changes to the employee handbook, at least on a temporary basis.

Those items included a discussion on telecommuting from home, when employees are required to be at work, sick pay and possible sick pay extensions.

Schwickerath said some employees had already used their sick leave, or were new employees and had not accrued much sick leave yet, and he wondered if the county should extend sick days in advance.

County employees accrue 24 days of sick leave annually, and can accumulate up to 90 days. Most county employees have reached their 90-day caps, Carr said.

Carr said it might be better to deal with a case-by-case basis, and she suggested that employees who had 90 days of sick leave accrued could donate some of those days to a pool for use by employees who don’t have enough days. The donating employees could then build back up to the 90-day max.

Kamm warned, “If you sweeten the pot too much you’re going to have people not coming in, and have a missed opportunity” to catch up on work projects that could be done when people are less busy.

Kamm and Supervisor Linda Tjaden agreed that it wasn’t probably necessary to make employee policy changes now, but that it would be a good idea to discuss the issue with the department heads.

Also at the meeting, the board discussed various video-conferencing options and their potential problems.

The board agreed to continue with telephone conference calls for the immediate future, but to direct county IT Director Bernie Solomon to continue investigating other options.

“There’s no requirement that it be video,” Carr said, referring to the Iowa Open Meetings Law rules regarding electronic meetings.

The board agreed to continue holding electronic workshop meetings at 9 a.m. on Mondays and regular meetings at 9 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the, month, but noted that some meetings could be canceled if there is not enough business to conduct, and that special meetings can be called when needed to deal with changing circumstances.

The board briefly discussed whether the county should issue a disaster declaration regarding the novel coronavirus.

The supervisors agreed that there would likely be no benefit from declaring a county emergency now, but they should keep the idea “on the back burner.”