Help available by phone, appointment - County buildings lock doors, rotate staff as precaution

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

As counties limit access to government offices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some also are making staffing changes to reduce the number of employees potentially at risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

County officials report the limitations are in place through April 3, at which time they will be reevaluated.

Butler County

“We are only working half days (8 a.m. to noon), and we are rotating our staff” in county offices, said Presiding Commissioner Vince Lampe. That, he said, does not apply to the state offices, including the courts and circuit clerk’s office.

“That’s just in the courthouse,” Lampe said. “Our guys out on the graders are all still working.”

Taxes, Lampe said, still are being collected, but via a drop box.

Lampe said a lot of business also is conducted via email.

Access to the courthouse has been limited for only “urgent business” since March 17.

That is “pretty much” what still is occurring, Lampe said. “ … We’ve got (office) phone numbers listed (on the offices and east side door). Most people have a cellphone and can call.”

Anyone entering, Lampe said, is asked to complete an “affidavit of entry conditions.”

The affidavit asks which office assistance is being sought from and then five questions regarding foreign travel, contact with others who travelled abroad, self-quarantine, COVID-19 diagnosis and unexplained fever, cough or shortness of breath.

The affidavit, Lampe said, has been given to all officeholders.

“I’m not sure how much they’re using it; everyone has it (but) they’re their own elected officials,” Lampe said. “I’m leaving it to them. We’re trying to work together rather than against one another.”

In some cases, Lampe said, the affidavit can be slipped back and forth under the door.

“I don’t know if they are opening the door; they may be just asking the questions over the phone,” Lampe said. “They have to sign it once they get in.”

Carter County

Carter County’s courthouse closed to the public on Monday morning, but continues with its normal hours of operation, said County Clerk Leona Stephens. Numbers for the county offices are listed on the door.

“We’re still here working,” she said. “We can help customers via phone, fax, email or curb side. … They can pay taxes over the phone by check or credit card or they can mail” them.

Stephens said the elected office holders have the choice of working or rotating staff.

Given the small staff sizes, “we’re just all working,” Stephens said.

Limited access, Stephen said, has been OK.

“I have not heard a lot of people venting about it,” Stephens said. “I think people are trying to adhere to the social distancing and crowd rule.”

Ripley County

Public access to the Ripley County Courthouse is limited and all doors are locked, with the exception of the west door, said County Clerk Becky York.

Signs, she said, are posted with telephone numbers to the various offices outside the west door.

Citizens are to “call and make an appointment,” York said. “Then, when they do enter through the west door, there are masks and gloves for them to don before they come into the office they are visiting.”

Most offices can offer their services by phone, York said.

“Those services that can’t be done by phone or faxing,” such as “tax receipts, then we are going to limit the access,” she said.

York said her office is open for absentee voting for the municipal election, which now is being held June 2.

“We’re open by appointment for people wanting to file for the August primary,” York said. Filing closes at 5 p.m. March 31.

At this time, York said, county offices are not rotating personnel.

“The only office that I am aware that is rotating staff is the state circuit clerk’s office,” she said. “(Staff rotation) that is subject to change, but that’s our situation at the present time without any confirmed cases in our county.”

Wayne County

The hours of operation remain the same at the Wayne County Courthouse, but “our doors are locked, with our phone numbers on the door,” explained County Clerk Kent Sisco.

All employees, he said, are working.

The front/south entrance, Sisco said, also has police tape blocking it, with a note for citizens to come to the rear entrance.

“We’re hoping they’ll see that and not walk up (but) just come around back first,” Sisco said.

Citizens needing assistance, he said, can call ahead or call from outside the courthouse.

“They can just show up, call the office, and we’ll come out to see them,” Sisco said.

An area has been set up “out back that we will let people in two at a time to conduct business,” Sisco explained. “It’s in the building.

“We have a little area set up with a table. We’ll conduct business there. When someone comes in and leaves, we sanitize everything.”

If anyone needing to file for the August primary or needing something, like an all-terrain vehicle/utility-task vehicle permit will call his office, “we can have everything ready and save them some time” on their arrival, Sisco said.

Stoddard County

With access limited at the Stoddard County government building, the goal is to “do as much (business) as we can” by phone, fax or email, said Presiding County Commissioner Danny Talkington.

Access to county offices is limited, with telephone numbers posted on the door, he said.

“If business can be transacted over the telephone, that’s the way we will handle it,” Talkington said. “… We realized some can’t. … If it can’t be and they come in person, we will bring them in one at a time to limit exposure.”

All county offices, he said, are open and functioning during regular business hours.

“We are rotating (staff), so we don’t have the entire staff in (the office) at any one time,” Talkington said. “That way should somebody have to be quarantined, it will only be half the staff instead of the full staff.”

Dunklin County

On Friday, County Clerk Kent Hampton said, the doors to the Dunklin County courthouse were locked, but it remains fully staffed.

“We have posted the phone numbers on the windows, where someone can call,” Hampton said. “If they request anything, we will print it here in the office and bring it outside to them.”

Access also is restricted at the county’s justice center, which houses the sheriff’s department, court and prosecuting attorney offices, Hampton said.

“We’re not allowing anyone in the building,” he said. “The court system is only handling inmate issues.”

Reynolds County

The offices at the Reynolds County Courthouse remain open for employees, but are “closed to the public coming in as they please,” said County Clerk Mike Harper.

Access is limited unless an appointment has been made, Harper said.

“People can call and still do business with the county,” said Harper, who indicated the citizens have been good about calling in.

“We’ll be working with the public like that,” Harper said.

Thus far, Harper said, no problems have been encountered.

“We keep the door locked and let people in” as needed, said Harper, who indicated deliveries are being dropped off outside the building.

“We really haven’t had any problems with none of it,” Harper said.

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