Osage County offices to reopen May 18

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

Osage County commissioners voted 3-0 on Monday to reopen to general public access as of May 18 the county courthouse in Pawhuska and other county owned buildings where governmental activities are conducted.

Emergency Management Director Jerry Roberts suggested the commissioners might make sure all county government employees returned to work by Tuesday of this week, with a view toward reopening the courthouse and other county government buildings by Thursday, May 7. Roberts said there had been only three new COVID-19 cases reported for Osage County in the previous seven days, and no additional deaths.

Court Clerk Jennifer Burd reminded the commissioners that the court system has been shut down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court through May 15. County Clerk Shelia Bellamy noted that the commissioners might want to consider if the reopening of county offices on one date, and the reopening of the courts on another date, might prove confusing for the public.

“I would rather be safe than sorry,” District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney said.

County Treasurer Sally Hulse said she could wait until May 18 to reopen, and Kandy Jump, assistant to the commissioners, said the judges and the court clerk had a plan in place already about their groundrules for court activities following a reopening, but other county offices and courthouse security personnel still needed to make plans.

“Everybody needs to be on the same page as to what the process is going to be,” Jump said. Bellamy suggested a meeting Monday afternoon to engage in planning.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones suggested getting all county government employees back in place this week and opening the courthouse and other buildings next Monday, May 11.

“We’ve been lucky so far. It’s been working for us,” Jones said regarding the county’s implementation of social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

McKinney said he thought the county should use the first half of the month to make preparations and then reopen at the same time as the courts, on May 18.

Associate District Judge Stuart Tate cited a need for planning in regard to the cleaning of surfaces in county government office buildings, and regarding the flow of people through the buildings.

“The cleaning thing, I think, is important,” Tate said.

The commissioners eventually settled on May 18 as a reopening date and voted unanimously in favor of it. They decided to move quicker, however, regarding public events at county owned structures — particularly events that can be held at the Osage County Fairgrounds. They joined with Jones to vote 3-0 to reopen the fairgrounds to public events as of May 6.

Tourism Director Kelly Bland asked if periodic cleaning of restrooms at the fairgrounds can be provided for during public events, and Jones indicated such cleaning can be mandated.

In other moves toward a return to a more robust role for county government, Sheriff Eddie Virden told the commissioners that he has reopened the county jail to the locking up of non-violent offenders. He said a plan for the safe operation of the jail had been developed and the Health Department had been given an opportunity to review that plan.Virden said he is coordinating with District Attorney Mike Fisher and the county’s judges on prisoner issues.

The Pawhuska City Council met Monday evening, and city officials decided they will reopen City Hall next Monday, May 11. The city’s fitness center will open on that date, and the library will be permitted to reopen if the staff there is comfortable doing so, Interim City Manager Tonya Bright said. The number of persons in the library at any one time will be limited, she said. For more information about the library, you can call 918-287-3989 and talk with a member of the staff.