Now in their fourth month on the job, the four new Wright County Commissioners are getting their feet under them. After being inundated with the information they need to know to do their jobs, the new county board members are getting up to speed. Now comes the worst-case scenario portion of their job.
At the April 2 board meeting, the board set a meeting for Tuesday, May 7 to meet as a committee of the whole to discuss the county’s Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) protocol – a planning process in which the county would have to deal with the job of keeping county government operating under the worst of conditions.
“Continuity of Operations Planning is the other end of emergency planning,” said Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Berg. “We can’t shut down. It serves to show us what we have to do in the event of a catastrophic emergency. It lays out how to cross-train employees and points out what we can’t do without at all, what we can do without for a week, for two weeks, a month, etc. It’s a system of prioritizing what we need most at a time of emergency.”
While the process of disaster preparation began in earnest following the Sept. 11 tragedies, it wasn’t the impetus for COOP training and preparedness. The motivating factor to establish a COOP committee and conducting preparation drills for different scenarios was a surge of pandemic type diseases.
“COOP preparation started because of concerns over having the type of widespread disease that could knock out a significant portion of our workforce,” Berg said. “From the Avian Flu to SARS to H1N1, there have been a string of viruses that have created the fears of a pandemic. The purpose of COOP training is to plan for the worst and, if anything does happen, dial it back depending on how severe the epidemic would be. The purpose is to prepare for the worst and hope you never need to implement it.”
Berg said the training can be used for disease as well as natural disasters that could disrupt business as usual for the county. While it may seem a bit far-fetched, it is a valuable tool for the county to have a plan in place. It is akin to having insurance – it’s something you hope to never use, but gives some peace of mind knowing you have it.
Two years ago, the county conducted a simulation of what would happen if the Avian Flu (bird flu) struck and the county lost 30 percent of its workforce without warning. The May 7 meeting will be the first taste of disaster preparation that the new commissioners have experienced and Berg said it isn’t a coincidence that the meeting was delayed until May.
“The new commissioners have been getting so many things thrown at them when they all took off, so we held off scheduling a COOP meeting until they were up to speed,” Berg said. “Now that they are, we felt the time was right to have one of these meetings.”
The meeting is scheduled to follow the May 7 board meeting.
In other items on the April 2 agenda, the board:
• On a 3-2 vote, approved a resolution from the Association of Minnesota Counties expressing the county’s support of increased transportation funding. At question was a line in the resolution that supported county’s having the option to impose wheelage fees and local option sales taxes as a way of generating revenue for local road projects, but both Commissioner Charlie Borrell and Board Chair Pat Sawatzke opposed the county seemingly being in favor of wheelage fees – which both clearly were not. Commissioner Mike Potter said that approving the resolution wouldn’t commit the county to imposing such a fee, but that it would give other counties the option. Since the resolution was going to be sent by Wright County to its own legislative representatives, both Borrell and Sawatzke refused to support the resolution if it maintained the wheelage fee provision.
• Received notice from the Minnesota Department of Management & Budget that the county has met the compliance standards set in the Local Government Pay Equity Act.
• Was introduced to Tammy Bigelow, who was hired to be the county’s new human resources director. Bigelow spent the last 14 years working for Benton County, the last several years at its HR director.
• Approved an eight-month seasonal intoxicating liquor license for Whispering Pines Golf Course in Corinna Township. The license request was laid over the previous week’s board meeting after questions arose concerning the legality of giving the golf course a year-long liquor license because it didn’t meet the standards set forth in state and county law pertaining to establishments that qualify for such a license. By giving a season license, the standards are lessened and it was deemed that the county could approve a license for the golf course that would run from April 1 to Nov. 30 of the calendar year.
• Agreed to hire Joseph Mako Appraisals Inc. to provide an independent appraisal of a daycare facility in Buffalo that is scheduled to go to court in July over a dispute on the county’s appraisal rate for the property. The county and the daycare have been at odds at the appraised value of the property for three years, which has led to a delinquent tax bill in excess of $100,000.
• Laid over for one week approving a contract with Houston Engineering for work to be done on County Ditch 38. Borrell said he still has concerns that Houston may not offer the same amount of service that was promised by a competitor that bid on the project as well. The item was laid over so Borrell could contact representatives of Houston to make sure that the items that were discussed at informational meetings will be put in writing as part of the contract with the county.
• Referred to the next River Riders Joint Powers Board meeting a request from the McLeod County Board to explore potentially collaborating on a multi-county transit system proposal.
• Set a deferred compensation committee meeting for 8:30 a.m. prior to the April 9 board meeting.
Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.