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Former Floyd County supervisor raises questions on courthouse COVID-19 plan

By Bob Steenson,

A former Floyd County supervisor has come before the current supervisors, asking them to review policies regarding controlling the spread of COVID-19, especially within the offices at the courthouse.

Mark Kuhn, a Floyd County farmer who was a supervisor from 1993 to 1998 and again from 2011 to 2018, was at the Board of Supervisors regular meeting Tuesday morning.

In a prepared statement he cited three instances where he said county employees tested positive for COVID-19, and asked if the Board of Supervisors had ever ordered department heads and elected officials to establish and maintain safety checklists, or if safety protocols were put into place the ensure the safety of other employees and the public.

He specifically asked whether masks were required in those offices, whether the offices were closed for disinfecting, and whether there was any contact tracing.

“The voters of Floyd County put their trust in you, the Board of Supervisors, the executive branch of county government, to enact county policies that protect the health of county employees and the general public when visiting the courthouse. The Code of Iowa gives you that responsibility,” Kuhn said as part of a much longer four-page statement.

Supervisor Chairman Roy Schwickerath, somewhat taken aback by Kuhn’s comments, said he didn’t think the former supervisor was “totally informed.”

“We don’t act as dictators. First off, we’re not allowed to by state code,” Schwickerath said. “Every elected official does run their individual office. And so we worked as a team to come up with plans on how to do this.

The courthouse has a sign posted at the entrance saying that masks are required in the County Treasurer’s Office and District Court, according to those office’s policies, and recommending that they be worn elsewhere.

“To say we haven’t taken a stand on this is not accurate. We have relied on our public health (administrator), Gail Arjes, for advice, and she has given us advice all the way along on this. She has reviewed this protocol,” he said, referring to a county action plan that was passed in April and amended in August.

“As far as the cases that we have had, limited cases within the courthouse, … the people that are in charge of those offices did make sure they were cleaned, they talked about contacts, who was near those people, and through discussions with Gail determined how to handle those.

“It isn’t like we work just in our own little world,” Schwickerath said to Kuhn. “You were a supervisor for a long time and you know how the courthouse works. We have taken proactive steps toward trying to minimize exposure to our employees and the public.”

Supervisor Linda Tjaden, referring to weekly department head meetings held when the pandemic was beginning, said, “We’ve had so many discussions on it. … We always want to rely on the department heads being the best ones to know the situation and how they want to handle their department. We’ve said that to everybody.”

Schwickerath said, “I don’t think it’s fair that you present that the county’s not doing appropriate safety precautions, because we are. We’re trying our best. And we listen to other people. We talk about how to do things safely for our community. There a lot of discussions that go on that you’re not aware of.”

Kuhn said, “I am not here to tell the Board of Supervisors you are not dealing with the greatest public health crisis in our lifetimes. In fact, I said I respected your efforts, and those of elected officials and department heads. I am asking you, however with a sense of urgency, to review this plan to determine if indeed your actions follow what you are saying today.

“I am here asking you to do that, because I believe the members of the community, including Charles City school officials, Floyd County hospital officials, health care workers on the front line of the pandemic, are pleading with members of the community to do the right thing,” he said.

“Clearly, we are not in the position we were in six months ago. I am not stating that you are inappropriately representing that. I am asking you to review this plan and see that you continue to meet the goals set forth in the plan,” Kuhn said.

Tjaden said the plan has been updated, and County Auditor Gloria Carr said Kuhn may not have the most recent version.

“It’s not that we haven’t looked it over. We picked that up a couple of times,” Tjaden said. “Can we do it again? Absolutely. But I didn’t want you to think that we haven’t looked it over. There were some adjustments that were made.”

Carr said that when the plan was amended it was Public Health Administrator Arjes who proposed the changes.

“We met with her to talk about what amendments she believed we needed to do,” Tjaden said.

Kuhn said he hopes the amended version says what should happen when a county employee is quarantining because of possible exposure, or when one tests positive for COVID-19.

Carr said the guideline is to contact Public Health.

Schwickerath said, “I thank you for bringing this forward. We will take it under advisement. It’s probably appropriate to review this again. … I can’t say we have it all figured out. I don’t think the world has it figured out. But we are trying.”

As Kuhn was getting ready to leave he offered one more comment.

“Would the board of supervisors and the auditor please consider wearing a mask during your public meetings? I realize that you might be maintaining a proper social distance of 6 feet during this meeting. However, as elected leaders of Floyd County, I think it is paramount on you to be good role models for all citizens of Floyd County to follow.”

Also at the meeting Tuesday morning, the supervisors approved the county employee holiday time off policy for 2021.

County employees will get 10 paid holidays: New Year’s Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Actually there will be 11 holidays paid during 2021, because New Year’s Day 2022 will be on a Saturday, meaning the day off will be observed on Friday, Dec. 31.

The supervisors have had a couple of discussions about whether the county would use Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day as a holiday, saying the only reason they chose Presidents Day is because employees prefer having the year’s second holiday in February rather than having two holidays in January.

The supervisors made the same decision last year for 2020, causing a small amount of contention in the community.

At a workshop meeting Monday, Tjaden said, “Some people were upset (last year) thinking we as a county were taking a stance. We reminded everybody we were not. I just want to say that again.”

The only reason for the decision is that employees prefer having a holiday in February to break up the winter, she said.