County courthouse plans May 18 opening

Joy Ufford photos Pinedale High School students, from left, Kylee Neubauer, Wooody Green and Zach Maxam offer cotton candy for donations to the McKenzie Meningitis Foundation during last Friday evening’s Cruisin’ Main. A large group of students collected from generous people driving by the old Pinedale Town Hall site on May 1. To the left is Janell Rinehart.

Measures taken to protect staff, public still debated

Sublette County Commis- sioners agreed during their May 5 meeting to open the Courthouse for public access on May 18, but not everyone agreed on the mea- sures needed to do that safely.

During a conference call with Public Health Officer Dr. Brendan Fitzsimmons, commissioners agreed it was time to get ser- vices back to normal. The decision was made as they sat separated by 6 feet. All extra chairs for the public were removed from the meet- ing room and public members on the agenda waited in the hallway to give presentations to ensure fewer than 10 people entered the room. The meeting was all video-streamed on the county’s Facebook page to discourage the public from attending. Even the commission- ers’ attorney and County Administrator Matt Gaffney attended by calling and remaining on mute on phones.

Since Gov. Mark Gordon issued a direc- tive March 13 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the courthouse has been closed to the public. Signs are posted on the doors to call for assistance; a drop-off box is installed for payments and requests. Courtrooms are closed to the public; defendants, judges and attorneys rely on hearings by video.

When the governor extended that execu- tive order again to April 30 and then again to May 15, the county continued keeping the doors closed to the public.

With the most recent directive allowing public places such as gyms and hair salons to open with strict guidelines, the commission- ers agreed enough is enough.

Fitzsimmons recommended barriers be- tween county employees and the public. He also recommended keeping a log of those who enter so if any positive COVID-19 cases appear, contact tracing can identify others who may have been exposed. He also recom- mended facemasks and taking temperatures of employees and those public members en- tering the building.

In advance of the meeting, Sublette County Maintenance Supervisor Andre Irey pur- chased plexiglas and had staff make portable partitions with cutouts at the base to allow passing through papers or payments.

“I bought the last eight sheets of plexiglas in town,” Irey said.

However, that ingenuity didn’t impress everyone. Sublette County Clerk Carrie Long said she wants a more permanent structure that runs the full length of the long counter where her employees meet the largest number of courthouse visitors.

“We have to protect employees,” Long said. Having one person in a department ex- posed could close down an entire department.

Irey said he had found someone who could build a more permanent structure but he didn’t know if the May 18 opening left enough time to get glass ordered and delivered.

“Mr. Chairman, What’s the hurry?” Long asked. “We’re all doing our jobs; what’s the rush to open to the public on May 18?”

“The public wants it,” Commissioner Tom Noble responded. “You know; the people who elected you, elected us.”

Long then asked for an additional staff per- son, saying it would take a full-time person logging people in the door to meet the recom- mendation that allowed for contact tracing.

“You don’t have an employee available for that?” Burnett asked. He described signing a logbook before getting a recent haircut as one way that requirement had been met.

Irey said he went to each of the department heads and elected officials and the temporary structures are fine for most. He added the Treasurer’s Office had already found similar temporary structures and has them in use.

Noble wanted to know the cost of a perma- nent structure.

Irey said he did not have the information available in time for the commissioners’ meeting and was waiting for a call-back on a price and the availability of glass. He added a permanent structure should be made of glass

He also cautioned that once one department has a permanent structure, other

department heads will be envious and will also request the more expensive option. He said he would be shocked if the permanent structure would cost more than

$50,000 but that was just a guess.
Commissioner Doug Vickrey said he was concerned about outside visitors. He

said he went to Soda Lake over the weekend. “It was inundated by out-of county and out-of-state vehicles.”

Fitzsimmons said, “Our economy is dependent on people coming in from out of town.”

He added the entire pandemic has been very fluid and he can only control certain aspects.

He has been working with the schools on how to conduct graduations in a safe way.

“Graduation brings in family from out of town and they live together in close quarters,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’m not going to tell someone they can’t bring in their grandmother from Provo.”

Fitzsimmons said. “We control what we can control.”

He added he is working with the libraries to start some type of curbside service and he is working with many businesses to try and get them open with safe practices that protect employees and patrons.

During the discussion, Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws entered the commission- ers’ meetings room and said providing protection for the courts would not be a priority. The Wyoming Supreme Court has ordered all remain closed until June and personal protective equipment is already available for court employees.

After approving the opening, commissioners were informed by Incident Com- mander Shad Cooper that 15,000 masks were purchased for distribution to county staff and public members.

Commissioners also approved a request to purchase facemasks and non-touch thermometers for distribution to businesses at the request of the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce.

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