Officials grapple with details of reopening policy

Robert Smith

Osage County officials continued to grapple Monday morning with the details of what it will take to safely reopen and operate the courthouse in Pawhuska, as well as other buildings where county government operations are conducted. The county’s government buildings are scheduled to reopen next Monday, May 18.

The county commissioners talked about having a follow-up special meeting this week, but did not settle Monday morning on a specific day and time for the meeting. County Clerk Shelia Bellamy said Tuesday morning it had been decided the meeting would be at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 14, at the Ag Building at the county fairgrounds.

County officials held their Monday discussion at the fairgrounds against a backdrop of continuing public concern about health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest statewide situation report as of Monday morning showed more than 4,600 cases of COVID-19 having been reported in Oklahoma, 88 of them in Osage County. There had been eight deaths in Osage County, and 62 people reportedly had recovered.

During the past week, American Legion Post 198 of Pawhuska has decided that it will not hold public gatherings for Memorial Day observances. The post will send a small group to place flags at the graves of veterans, and it will send a small group to play “Taps” and fire a 21-gun salute on the holiday, but the public will not be encouraged to participate. Memorial Day is May 25.

Also, the organizers of the annual Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping, a well-attended and charitable rodeo event held every Father’s Day at the Osage County Fairgrounds, has been canceled for this year. The steer roping event is usually the last hurrah of Cattlemen’s Week, and Father’s Day this year will be June 21.

Deputy Matt Clark, who is a member of the courthouse security team, County Clerk Bellamy and Lieutenant Gil DuPont, who works at the county jail, led off the discussion Monday. Clark said the courthouse elevator was non-functioning as of Monday, and unless that situation is remedied before the courthouse reopens then visitors will have to use staircases to get to offices on the second and third floors.

Bellamy commented that handrails, door knobs and other items that both county employees and visitors are likely to touch repeatedly will need frequent cleaning. DuPont questioned whether officials working in the courthouse have acquired the cleaning supplies they will need to maintain a safe environment.

“If you don’t have it now, you’re not going to get it,” DuPont warned, reminding officials that the demand for cleaning supplies remains high.

Kandy Jump, assistant to the Board of County Commissioners, said sanitary wipes have been especially hard to find.

“The wipes — we may just have to punt and make some,” Jump said. Participants in the Monday morning conversation at the county board’s weekly meeting talked over potential approaches to taking temperatures of visitors, and potentially posting signs warning persons with COVID-19 symptoms to enter the courthouse.

Assessor Ed Quinton Jr. questioned whether there would be a regular schedule developed for the cleaning of spaces in the courthouse that everyone uses.

Two things, in particular, emerged from the Monday discussion — the need to caution people not to visit the county’s government buildings if they can do their business via telephone or email; and the need for more discussion to attempt to hammer out a written policy document.

“If you don’t need to be at the courthouse, don’t come,” Bellamy said that she has been telling people.

District Attorney Mike Fisher suggested that other county officials might consider joining together to adapt to their own needs a set of policies and procedures that Associate District Judge Stuart Tate has issued for the county’s courts.

Bellamy brought to the attention of the group a set of policies and procedures provided by the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, and she questioned how Osage County should respond to that document.

Fisher suggested treating the ACCO policies and procedures as guidance, and discussing them further in the proposed special meeting.

Bellamy also issued a word of caution to other officials and to county employees generally — to avoid talking in public about the details of the health situations of others.

“Don’t be giving employees’ names out,” she said, specifically warning that no one should be talking about who might be tested for COVID-19.