By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board has referred the state of emergency declaration approved in March because of COVID-19 to the executive committee for a resolution to end the state of emergency.
At the June 17 meeting, the county board voted on the motion, which directs the executive committee to consider writing a resolution to end the state of emergency that would be on the agenda for the Dunn County Board at the July 29 meeting.
The county board meeting was conducted using the Zoom online platform, with a videotape of the meeting posted to Dunn County’s YouTube channel.
The vote to refer the matter to the executive committee was close.
While the Colfax Messenger and at least one county board member tallied the vote at 15 “no” to 14 “yes,” because of technical difficulties with the Internet connection and sound quality, and some county board members being “muted” while attempting to record their votes on a roll call by the county clerk, the official tally was 15 “yes” to 14 “no.”
David Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, declared the vote valid based on Dunn County Clerk Julie Wathke’s initial tally of 15 “yes” to 14 “no.”
Later on, the Colfax Messenger listened to the videotape again to try to figure out how the Messenger’s tally had come up differently than the official tally — and still had 15 “no” to 14 “yes.”
In a follow-up telephone call with the county clerk, Wathke said she, too, had listened to videotape, and the vote was, indeed, 15 “no” to 14 “yes,” but since the county board chair had declared the clerk’s initial tally as the official vote, the state of emergency declaration will be on the executive committee’s agenda at the July 22 meeting for a resolution to end the state of emergency.
The executive committee is aware of the situation, Wathke said.
In the future, as a way to compensate for potentially poor sound quality and poor Internet connections (29 county board members have 29 different Internet connections with a Zoom meeting because they are each logging into the meeting from 29 different locations on 29 different electronic devices) — Wathke said she will implement a procedure whereby she will verify, in real time, each roll call vote as she is asking for the vote.
As for the county board’s state of emergency, the declaration was approved for six months and will end in September.
Bartlett started the discussion about the state of emergency by asking if September is “too long?”
Mike Rogers, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said the county board should get back to the county board “taking care of business” and that he was not sure a state of emergency was necessary anymore because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Larry Bjork, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he had been receiving telephone calls from people asking how many active cases there are in Dunn County.
At the time of the June 17 county board meeting, Dunn County had 29 positive cases of COVID-19, and all 29 had been released from isolation.
As of June 24, Dunn County had gained four active cases, for a total of 33.
As of June 26, Dunn County had gained one additional case, for a total of 34.
Kelly McCullough, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he would be concerned about state and federal relief funding being based on whether there is a state of emergency in Dunn County.
The state of emergency gives the county flexibility because “nothing has changed” about COVID-19. As of March 18, there were 250 deaths in the United States from COVID-19, but three months later, as of the June 17 county board meeting, there were 120,000 deaths in the United States, he said.
“The virus is not gone. It is still as deadly,” McCullough said, adding that the county must be able to respond quickly to changing conditions.
As long as the federal emergency is in effect, rescinding the Dunn County declaration of emergency will have no impact on funding, said Nick Lange, Dunn County corporation counsel.
If the federal declaration is discontinued, then the funding would end, unless the state or the county took further action, he said.
If the state of emergency is rescinded, the Dunn County Board would have to declare another state of emergency if there is no federal or state emergency if Dunn County wants to be reimbursed, Lange said.
The state of emergency allows Dunn County to be more nimble to changing conditions, said James Tripp, county board supervisor from Menomonie.
Without a state of emergency, the county will be less able to react quickly, said Paul Miller, county manager.
Leaving the state of emergency in place until September would give the county the opportunity to move quickly after the students return to UW-Stout, he said.
Thousands of students in a concentrated population will create a “prime petri dish” for COVID-19, Miller said.
Without a state of emergency, making decisions, such as whether to close county buildings, would have to go to committee first and then to the county board for a vote at a regular meeting or would require a special meeting of the county board, Miller said.
Whether the decision goes through the regular channels or an emergency meeting of the county board, the process will lengthen the response time, he said.
Depending upon the issue and when the county board meets, it could be five or six weeks before an issue came to the county board, and there would be no way to prevent secondary transmission, said KT Gallagher of the Dunn County Health Department.
“Timeliness is a concern,” she said.
Implementing COVID-19 protocols that need the oversight of the facilities committee and the Dunn County Board would be substantially slowed down, Miller said.
Rogers offered a motion to rescind the state of emergency.
The item was on the agenda for discussion only, so the county board would have to refer the matter of ending the state of emergency to the executive committee for a written resolution that would be on the agenda for the next county board meeting in July, Lange said.
Larry Bjork noted that he works at Walmart, temperatures are taken for employees, the employees wear masks, and other safety measures are implemented.
People should be able to get on with their lives, he said.
Gary Stene, county board supervisor from Colfax, pointed out that an emergency Dunn County Board meeting can be called within 24 hours.
The motion to send the matter to the executive committee was at first voted on by voice vote, but the vote was so close, it was difficult to tell if there were more “no” or more “yes” votes.
Voting against the motion on a roll call vote were Don Kuether (Menomonie); Mike Kneer (Menomonie); Tim Lienau (Menomonie); Kelly McCullough (Menomonie); Diane Morehouse (Menomonie); Ron Score (Boyceville); James Tripp (Menomonie); Carl Vandermeulen (Menomonie); Ann Vogl (Menomonie); Jim Zons (Colfax); James Anderson (Menomonie); John Calabrese (Menomonie); Sarah Kennedy (Menomonie); David Bartlett (Boyceville); and Sheila Stori (Menomonie).
Voting in favor of the motion were Jody Kromrey (Menomonie); Charles Maves (Boyceville); Timothy Niehoff (Menomonie); Randy Prochnow (Menomonie); Tom Quinn (Downing); Michael Rogers (Menomonie); Gary Stene (Colfax); Robert Bauer (Menomonie); Gary Bjork (Colfax); Larry Bjork (Menomonie); Jerry Hartung (Menomonie); Vaughn Hedlund (Menomonie); Steve Jenson (Elk Mound); and Brian Johnson (Colfax).