Clinton County plans gradual approach for public re-entry to government offices

By Gary Huffenberger -

WILMINGTON — County government officials on Monday sketched out gradual re-openings for their offices, emphasizing that they largely have maintained services to the public since physical distancing guidelines were announced six weeks ago.

Department heads and elected officials including village mayors joined Clinton County commissioners in a virtual meeting — which as OSU Extension agriculture educator Tony Nye observed seem to be ever-present. The commissioners’ meeting was Nye’s third Monday, he said at 9:30 a.m.

Both Clinton County Chief Deputy Sheriff Col. Brian Prickett and Clinton County Common Pleas Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck noted that due to concerns about the potential of spreading the infectious coronavirus in close quarters, there has been a limiting of the county jail inmate population.

Rudduck said in coordination with the sheriff’s office, local authorities have been able to reduce the local jail population “considerably,” through releases on bond, or by mitigation of sentences on low-level, non-violent, and non-sex offense cases.

The judge also said, “The courts don’t close. Our court has not closed. Mindful of the fact that we’re in a pandemic, we’re also in an epidemic [drug]. I think the mental health people are in a vulnerable state right now; we’ve actually lost a few people through overdoses of drugs. So we’re still testing people, the Probation Department is still up and running.”

A key matter the court has to deal with, said Rudduck, involves the holding of trials-by-jury where a dozen or more jurors sit next to one another.

“We can’t continue [postpone] jury trials indefinitely, so the bailiff and I are working on a plan to reconfigure the courtroom so we can have a jury trial perhaps as early as May. I’ve continued some very high-profile jury trials because of the pandemic, but I can’t do that indefinitely,” Rudduck said.

The other judge at the courthouse, Clinton County Juvenile and Probate Judge Chad L. Carey, pressed commissioners to set up some form of screening at the building’s front door.

During the meeting Monday, Carey said he was hopeful when he made a request on March 16 that the commissioners would pursue having body temperatures taken when people entered the courthouse, along with perhaps a series of short questions, and providing masks if a visitor did not have one to wear.

Warren County has had such screening for several weeks, according to Carey.

“If the county is going to refuse to do anything at the front door, we’re going to do it on the second floor,” said Carey. The juvenile and probate courtrooms are located on the courthouse’s second story.

Clinton County Commissioners President Kerry R. Steed replied the commissioners would “definitely be working on providing guidance here shortly in regard to some of those suggestions.” Later in the meeting, Steed said the guidance most likely would be provided later this week.

Clinton County Health Commissioner Pam Walker-Bauer said the one service the health district hasn’t performed during the pandemic period are the immunizations it normally provides. When immunizations are resumed, she said they will be scheduled by appointment, rather than walk-in clinics.

The health district’s other services have continued, she said, including serving WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) clients, plumbing and environmental matters, and recording vital statistics.

Health District staff, of course, has taken on extra work during the pandemic.

Clinton County Job & Family Services (JFS) Director Kathi Spirk said although the number of residents applying for benefits have increased, she feels like the agency has maintained its services while its employees work remotely and do a lot by phone.

As for the public being able to enter again into the JFS building on South South Street, Spirk thinks it will be a slow transition. On average, 2,000 people come in-person to JFS per month, she said.

“I don’t feel like there’s been anything that’s not been continuing as far as service to the community. So I see us slowly transitioning back to getting staff back in the building; and then slowly transitioning to [in-person] appointments only; and to slowly letting folks back into the building,” said Spirk.

Clinton County Clerk of Courts Cynthia “Cindy” R. Bailey said county commissioners will want to plan ahead for when the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) office reopens to the public in the county’s Administration Building on East Sugartree Street, though she assumes the State of Ohio will give the BMV guidelines.

As a county building, commissioners may want to limit the number of people inside the relatively small facility, said Bailey.

Steed mentioned a tentative prospect of people waiting in their cars in the parking lot in order to limit the numbers inside the building.

Extension ag educator Nye said he has not been permitted to go to farms unless he has an exemption, which he’s sure is due to legal liability.

Clinton County Auditor Terence “Terry” G. Habermehl said Monday morning he anticipates being open next week for scheduled appointments.

The auditor also plans to require masks for people to come into the office, and to limit the entry area of the office to one person at a time.

Sabina Mayor Jim Mongold presented his outline for opening the Village Municipal Building offices to the public.

Once the clearance has been given by authorities, the mayor said the first week his office will be re-opened; the following week the utility clerk office will be re-opened; the week after that the fiscal office; and then after that they are going to look at re-opening the entire municipal building.

He said public meetings are a separate question, and he is currently wary of those.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

By Gary Huffenberger