Warren County Court was in session Tuesday as the board of commissioners met by teleconference in response to a statewide stay-at-home order and cases of the novel coronavirus in the community.
During the meeting, county staff talked about cleaning done of county facilities after a probation officer tested positive for COVID-19.
Also the commissioners approved measures permitting contractors building the new jail to continue to work and approval of plat plans required for construction of new subdivisions, while the state order directed non-essential workers to stay home as much as possible.
“We do have county business. We are open for business,” Commissioner Dave Young said as the teleconference meeting opened.
“We’re doing the best we can complying with the law,” Young said in reference to questions about whether the teleconferences were legal under Ohio public meeting law.
The commissioners also approved an essential staffing plan and authorized purchases up to $100,000 by staff in cases where they aren’t available.
In addition, the commissioners approved a letter to jail contractor Granger Construction authorizing them to keep working on the $50 million-plus facilities for the jail and sheriff’s office, across Justice Drive from the existing jail and sheriff’s office and county court.
“You are declaring an emergency for limited purposes,” Assistant County Prosecutor Bruce McGary said. He explained the resolutions permitted the use of county funds to make regular purchases and replace anything destroyed during the emergency and meet demands from the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati to make “timely” approval of the plans for residential development in the fast-growing county.
The board approved a resolution drafted by Commissioner Tom Grossmann supporting applications for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I’m still not even sure it’s necessary,” McGary said, since federal and statewide declarations were already in place.
This was part of the reasoning that prompted the commissioners to vote 2-1 a week ago against a declaration of emergency sought by fire, emergency management and health officials.
Grossmann’s resolution doesn’t declare an emergency.
“It doesn’t use that language,” McGary said.
The resolution recognizes the state and federal emergencies, the seriousness of the coronavirus risk and indicates support for state orders in response.
County Administrator Tiffany Zindel recognized Young for allowing the county to use his credit card to purchase gloves, gowns and protective gear for first responders.
County officials are in support of “purchasing as much as we need,” Young said.
The county is also working with Atrium Medical Center staff on expanding capabilities at the county’s only full hospital “if Warren County does become a hot spot,” Young said.
On Tuesday, the Warren County Health district reported two new confirmed cases. This brings to seven the number so far reported in the community. The cases include six men and one woman with ages ranging from 22 to 74 years old.
The commissioners also approved a resolution limiting to 10 the number of people permitted to gather in county buildings.
The common pleas court, across from the county court, was open with special precautions.
Before allowed entrance, visitors’ temperatures are taken. All civil case dates have been continued, while only essential criminal hearings are being held.
McGary advised the commissioners that, as they met by teleconference, the county court parking lot “is virtually full.”
Special precautions included social distancing and barred anyone not summoned to court Tuesday for a criminal or traffic case.
The defendants were seated in every other chair, while others waited their turns in their cars in the parking lot for the court and sheriff’s office.
While acknowledging courts were independent of the county, Young urged staff to notify County Judge Gary Loxley that Tuesday’s court day was “on our radar.”
McGary said “practice of law” and jury duty were among essential government functions in the state order.
He also noted the “amount of exceptions are remarkable in this document.”
After the probation officer’s positive test was confirmed, county offices where he worked underwent a special cleaning, officials said. Grossmann emphasized overall cleaning had been “enhanced” in response to the COVID-19 concern.
Also Young said crews operating the county’s water plants were split, a practice also being used in offices operated by the clerk of courts.
“In Warren County, we’re taking things incredibly seriously,” Young said. The plan is in place for two weeks.
After the meeting, Clerk of Courts Jim Spaeth said car title offices were closed Tuesday. Previously, Spaeth said, the officers had been closed to the public, but open to auto dealers as a result of claims they were an essential service.
Spaeth said auto dealers were being routed to an office in Lebanon, where a drop-off window minimized contact.
“Once they do it, we’ve got five days we have to get them back to them,” he said.
Spaeth said he was unsure how the title office would be operated on Wednesday if more local confirmed cases were reported.
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