WTIP file photo

County continues planning for coronavirus

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, March 24.

The meeting had a much different format as all of the commissioners with the exception of one participated via teleconferencing as the ongoing concerns of the coronavirus limit movement and gatherings in the community. Only commissioner Bobby Deschampe was present as a member of the county board. Interim County Administrator Rena Rogers was also present during Tuesday’s meeting. The remainder of the participants, including the county attorney, participated by phone or video teleconferencing.

County Administrator Update
Though a majority of the meeting focused on the county’s plans for the coronavirus pandemic, the commissioners discussed their plans regarding the hiring process for the next county administrator.

Consultant Gary Weiers, who was hired to assist the board with finding candidates and the process of who will the next county administrator, suggested stopping the process where it stands and to resume the conversation at a later date.

The original plan was to narrow the current candidate pool to three during Tuesday’s meeting and to conduct in-person interviews on April 20. Weiers recommended hitting the pause button on that process, a notion the entire board supported with a unanimous vote.

Board Chair Myron Bursheim said the board needs to “respect the integrity of the process” as it pertains to both hiring the next administrator and giving consideration to things impacted by the coronavirus, including travel and in-person meetings and dialogue.

With these considerations in mind, the board opted to delay the hiring process for the next county administrator. As the board voted to table the discussion, there is no set timeline for when the hiring process will resume.

County Positions
There are some changes to staff coming to the county amid the ongoing public health emergency and the coronavirus pandemic. The county’s public health coordinator, Grace Grinager, will now be the county’s public health supervisor.

A new position, a public health educator, will be hired by the county to assist with communication and public outreach efforts regarding the COVID-19 situation and other health-related issues the county needs to address. The public health educator will report directly to Grinager.

The educator position at the county’s public health department will be paid between approximately $20 and $28 per hour depending on their experience, according to Pamela Dixon, the county’s human resources director.

Emergency Operations Center
The local community center will serve as the county’s emergency operations center effectively immediately, according to Rogers. The emergency operations center would serve as a headquarters, albeit with an abundance of teleconference discussion and remote video conversations, for the county. Cook County Emergency Management Director Mike Keyport will be working out of the community center during this time. As the situation unfolds, the county would also consider the role a public information officer could play in sharing information in a timely manner, Rogers noted.

The commissioners, county attorney and other county staff discussed others who could be hired, either temporarily or on a specific contract, to assist with emergency management operations during this difficult time. Retired Cook County Emergency Management Director Jim Wiinanen was a name mentioned to assist, at least in the short term, with the county’s efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic.

While discussing other plans on the local level regarding COVID-19, Rogers praised the offerings and ideas from the local business community to assist the county and community during this time. For example, Rogers said Bluefin Bay Owner Dennis Rysdahl is offering empty lodging to house people who need quarantine or isolation due to the virus.

Regarding the courthouse, county staff, Rogers said many county employees have been sent home to perform their jobs at this time. The courthouse facility will largely be closed to the public starting Wednesday, March 25 at noon.

Furthermore, all meetings that include the public have been cancelled, postponed, or shifted to video or conference call meetings or at least have a conference call option, Rogers said. These actions have been taken to protect staff and the public in order to maintain the county’s ability to deliver essential services, she concluded.

The board is likely to reconvene for another meeting this month to specifically discuss the ongoing situation with the coronavirus. That will take place next Tuesday, March 31.

Travel Advisory
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners passed a countywide travel advisory recommending that visitors and seasonal property owners remain away for the time being.

The commissioners referenced a high percentage of elderly people among local, permanent residents and the lack of medical infrastructure as reasons for the travel advisory restrictions, Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk said.

Doo-Kirk also stated that the advisory is not a resolution or enforceable by law enforcement.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Rogers about the latest news from the county. Here the interview below.

A message share with WTIP from the county:

During the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency Cook County is restricting access to county facilities which includes: courthouse, law enforcement center, highway department offices, the community center. In order to continue providing county services we would ask the public to contact us in the following ways:

1. Check our website. It’s possible that the information, form or service you seek is available at www.co.cook.mn.us

2. Most of our employees are working remotely; phones calls are being forwarded to their remote work locations. Many questions or issues can be resolved through a phone call. It may be that the form or document you need can be mailed to you or emailed to you. Here’s how to contact specific departments.

Administration – 387-3602
Assessor -387-3650
Attorney – 387-3670
Auditor – 387-3640
Community Center/Extension Services – 387-3015
Court Administration -387-3610
Highway – 387-3014
Land Services – 387-3630
Public Health and Human Services – 387-3620
Recorder – 387-3660
Sheriff (non-emergency) – 387-3030
Soil and Water – 387-3647