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"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
CAFO stakeholder's meeting spills into county board
By Lynda Berg Olds
Prior to the Polk County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday night was a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Stakeholders meeting upstairs at the Government Center in Balsam Lake. The coordinators of this event were staff of the Polk County Division of Environmental Services, Department of Land Information.
Three stakeholder groups were identified and were separated into independent session, with each group allowed one hour to share their input and concerns regarding new CAFO regulations. The information received will be presented (today) Wednesday to the Environmental Services Committee.
The three groups were identified as Agricultural Producers, Local Officials/Moratorium Committee Members and Concerned Citizens.
The official start time of the county board meeting is 6 p.m., but it was changed until 7 p.m. to accommodate this event. Supervisors filed in a few minutes late and First Vice Chair Jay Luke, who presided over the meeting in Chair Dean Johansen's absence, robustly rang the bell and pounded the gavel as the troops rolled in, calling the meeting to order.
A tiny civics lesson
After the routine business, which includes, among other items, the Roll Call (four of 15 absent), the Pledge of Allegiance and Time of Reflection (none offered), a motion was called for to approve the Consent Agenda. This involved approval/corrections to the minutes from Dec. 17, 2019, approval of a resolution amending the Polk County Smoke-Free Air Ordinance (to include prohibition of vaping or use of any electronic devices), confirmation of Emergency Fire Wardens for the county (Jean Smith, Mike Stoddard, and Ron and Patty Fredericks).
Luke hastened to confirm the appointment of new County Clerk Lisa Ross, with unanimous support from the supervisors, as she was already working in the position. Tuesday was also former County Clerk Sharon Jorgenson's first day as the new Clerk of Circuit Courts.
This is a good point to note that both County Administrator Vince Netherland, as well as Luke, were quick to give kudos to those who have jumped in the breach to help get Ross up to speed in this important cycle with five elections. Even former County Clerk Carole Wondra offered her support.
And speaking of changes, although Bob Kazmierski was not present, he was given big kudos as he is now the new Environmental Services Division Director, where he has been well received by staff. Formerly with UW-Extension Services, Kazmierski is no stranger to the county and has 19 years of experience in the public service arena under his belt.204100l.7yhn edx
Netherland observed later in the meeting that it is also critical to get a new Information Technology Director on board as soon as possible, stressing cyber-security goals.
CAFO Conundrum Continues
Finally then, while all the preliminary work transpired, 25-plus CAFO Concerned Citizens had settled into the boardroom, about half of the total number of individuals in attendance at the Stakeholders Meeting. This event dealt primarily with air and water quality issues and these citizens were present to be heard – and heard they were, several of them, loud and clear during public comments, which took some time.
What follows are excerpts of their unanimous and impassioned pleas to the supervisors to extend the moratorium:
“You are going to vote tomorrow [at the Environmental Services Committee meeting]. This has the potential for disaster, potentially more dangerous and long-lasting than a tornado. But we can stop it. What is your legacy going to be?”
Editors note: These comments are all environmentally-related to the 26,000 swine Suidae CAFO operation proposed moving to Burnett County (nearby Trade Lake) from Iowa and will be operated by a large corporation. Residents of Trade Lake have expressed about the accountability of the Suidae CAFO. One such comment at a recent meeting in Luck was, “They may be agriculture, but they’re industrial, and they should be regulated as such.”
Nutrient, pathogen and antibiotic pollution to ground and surface water – and wells – remain a concern and because the proposed site is near a tributary to the St. Croix River, the Suidae operation has the potential to affect water quality along many miles of river.
The second speaker repeated the words, “Shame on you,” over and over. With this potential for absolute disaster, shame on anyone who would let something like this happen. We live here. We don't farm, but we pay taxes.”
She lamented the fact that the citizens don't get a vote and their only recourse is to rely on the judgment of the supervisors. She also said emphatically about pork in general, “You shouldn't eat that stuff. We don't eat that stuff. That stuff is poison.”
The next woman up said baldly, “We are not being heard enough. This is a problem nationwide. We need to stop it before it causes harm. I'm representing a bunch of citizens and they are scared. Your job is to take care of us. We all deserve quality of life and to not be contaminated. We are not crazy.”
Kirsten Martin, a 28-year resident of the Town of Luck, talked about a class action lawsuit involving 300 individuals regarding nitrate contamination due to mismanagement of manure from another CAFO.
“This is a can of worms you really don't want to open. You can't put this back in. The same sort of thing is going to happen here. There is little to no benefit for we residents, but there is a monumental risk. It would be tragic to destroy this area's water. As a gardener I can tell you we have gotten more rain these past years and I don't see any changes going forward. It has only gotten wetter. With the water table as it is – our lakes and streams are at risk. Please, please extend this moratorium. Look at some of the water studies that have come out of Iowa. Please do your job!”
Lisa Doerr, of the Town of Laketown, provided a comprehensive, detailed, four-page handout, where she researched all the legalities of why the moratorium should be extended, providing a great number of sources. Hers was a six-point plea:
1. No review of Wisconsin Statute 92.15 as basis for proposed amendments
2. No scientific basis for setbacks that are weaker than current Wisconsin Statute 93.90, ACTP 51 Rule.
3. No review of air pollution impacts or American Public Health Association call for national CAFO moratorium
4. No application fee or performance bonds included
5. No review of emergency response capability for outbreak of African Swine Fever (hog Ebola).
Evidently experts predict, in the face of millions of hogs who have died or been killed globally, that 25 percent of the global herd will perish. The disease is 100 percent fatal and the pathogen especially hardy.
“In fact, Germany is now building a wall along their Polish border because the disease is now in Poland,” stated Doerr. “It is going to eventually get here, so what would the county do with 26,000 hogs that are dead, because you have to kill them. Particularly with our water table and no ability to incinerate them or compost them. So we really need to know what the county would do with a herd that is going to get wiped out by Swine Fever.”
Finally, 6. Towns need time to review the impact of ordinance on A-2 and Shoreland zoned areas.
Doerr closed asking for the board to extend the moratorium so they have a chance to look at these issues in depth.
Another Trade River Watershed representative observed that the water from the Trade River moves all the way to the ocean.
“A CAFO doesn't have the incentive a 100-year farmer has. For them, manure is waste. And look at all the standing corn we have. How do you spread manure on standing corn?”
Finally, a member of the Town of Osceola Planning Commission implored the County Board of Supervisors to give them something to work with. She said there are a lot of questions being asked with regards to CAFOs, but the Commission does not have the answers.
“It's a good start,” she said, “but you need to give us something more.”
This is an issue that is not going away any time soon – or possibly ever.
January 23, 2020
Strategic Plan is alive; not a shelf document
By Lynda Berg Olds
“It's hard to believe we are three years into our five-year plan,” commented Luck School Board President Jacob Jensen to Superintendent Cory Hinkel at Monday night's meeting of the board. Hinkel zoomed through the the January 2020 portion of the 2018-2023 plan, where a tremendous amount of progress has already been made. What follows are the highlights as presented.
The first area involved Student Achievement and Learning Opportunities. To that end, the following real “action” steps have been taken:
Explored Charter School Concept; still exploring full time Tech Ed Instructor; changed Video production to Productions to incorporate CNC, Laser Engraver and 3-d Printers along with Video Hands-On Technology implemented in Elementary (Maker Space).
Next was to allow students opportunities to learn outside traditional settings:
There was high attendance in Cardinal Academy; Monty’s Traveling Reptile Show is coming soon; the Flight Squad performed and the elementary had a student-led camp.
This is followed by celebrating the success of students in academics and citizenship in the following ways:
With the ACT Honor Board; restructuring of the CIA (Cardinal Intelligence Agency); Character education - Positivity Project implemented school-wide (PK-12); a Re-focus on PBIS- Systems to reward positive behavior/re-teaching of expectations.
The next focus, to ensure the growth of every student at all levels of achievement, involved the following steps already this January:
Use of resource time to target struggling students; a change to elementary problem solving meetings; mailing Progress Reports and Report Cards every six weeks in the Middle School and High Schools; and the inception of grades 3-8 Spelling Bee Statewide Competition involvement.
Capitalizing on the resources of being a PK-12 district in one building has been undertaken in the following ways of late: The library converted to a 21st century learning space; there have been school-wide Pep Assemblies- IE: Football! And the Wellness Committee is focusing on positive environment among 4K-12 staff.
Additionally, the new version of the Christmas Tea went over very well with staff getting together offsite for food, fellowship and fabulous prizes.
Engaging the community as a partner of learning is another focus and these actions have been taken to that end:
The new partnership with the Village of Luck Police; a partnership with St. Croix Valley Hardwoods - with special education students also employed at Jensen Furniture; and all kinds of new signage throughout the building.
“Providing technology opportunities that fit the ever- changing world by staying at its forefront,” is yet another component of the strategic plan. This is currently being accomplished with the updated Elementary Lab; the purchase of Virtual Reality equipment; field trips and Oculus; the purchase of touch screen television and added electronic signage in the building.
Taking care of the building is also paramount and “maintaining the facilities to provide a safe environment that is conducive to learning and projects the values of our community” is yet another focus of the Plan.
To that end the Art Room and Library have been remodeled; there is a focus on maintaining and improving the Metal and Wood Shop Spaces; application has been made for a FEMA Grant; and work continues to focus on the capital improvement referendum.
Finally, Luck's Strategic Plan goes on to “provide professional growth of staff and promote and foster a collaborative working atmosphere” by: providing deescalation training to all staff in house by CESA; having had aides come in during in-service for targeted training; staff-led book studies; and staff in general have taken more leadership responsibilities, particularly in relation to the school forest, math coaching, restorative practices, and PBIS.
Throughout this lengthy and comprehensive process, all efforts have been taken by administration, board members and other stakeholders who have invested their time, to ensure that this Plan absolutely does not become a “shelf document.”
Clearly that is not the case, as this Strategic Plan is very much alive - and flourishing with constant nourishment.
January 30, 2020
“Honor and Remember” flag adopted by State
By Lynda Berg Olds
At the recent meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Vince Netherland reported that he had been contacted by VSO (Veterans Service Officer) Andy Butzler, who advised that the State of Wisconsin has adopted the “Honor and Remember” flag.
“This is a flag that honors all fallen heroes, all fallen soldiers that served the United States, whether they died in combat or if they died while in service in another capacity, but all are heroes who deserve recognition,” stated Netherland, who had circulated a photo of the flag, along with some history.
“I give this to you because in the next couple of weeks, these will pop up on all of our campuses. They fly below the American flag and it is a little bit smaller than the American flag and the protocol has been approved by the government.
“I know when people drive by, they are going to say, 'Hey, what's that new flag? It's not a Packer flag so what is it?' So now you will know what that is. I want to thank Andy for bringing this forward and there will soon be one on each of our flagpoles.”
The Honor and Remember Flag was created to serve as a national symbol that specifically acknowledges the sacrifice of men and women in the United States Armed Forces who have given their lives for their country in over two centuries if America's history, all the way back to the American Revolution.
“The Red Field represents the blood spilled by brave men and women in America’s military throughout our history, who willingly gave their lives so that we all would remain free.
“The Blue Star represents active service in military conflict. This symbol originated with World War I, but on this flag it signifies service through all generations from the American Revolution to present day.
“The White Border surrounding the gold star recognizes the purity of sacrifice. There is no greater price an American can pay than to give his or her life in service to our country.
“The Gold Star signifies the ultimate sacrifice of a warrior in active service who will not return home. Gold reflects the value of the life that was given.
“The Folded Flag signifies the final tribute to an individual life that a family sacrificed and gave to the nation.
“The Flame is an eternal reminder of the spirit that has departed this life yet burns on in the memory of all who knew and loved the fallen hero.”
The origin of this flag was shared by VSO Butzler:
On Dec. 29, 2005, George Anthony Lutz II (Tony) was killed by a sniper’s bullet while he was on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. His family and friends endured the shock, emotional agony and overwhelming loss that accompanied the news of Tony’s death, just like the many families who have suffered the same tragedy.
In the months that followed Tony’s funeral, his father, George, visited other families who had lost loved ones in the Iraq war. He began to sense that he had joined the ranks of a unique fellowship. These families were only the latest additions to a group that originated with the American Revolution, when the first soldiers to shed their blood for our freedom gave their lives.
George found another commonality among the families of fallen soldiers. After their grief had transitioned to numbness and finally to acceptance, many families wanted to know two things: their sacrifice was not in vain and the nation would never forget. These concerns led George on a quest to discover if there was a universally recognized symbol that specifically acknowledges the American service men and women who never made it home. To his surprise, he found nothing. Thus the Honor and Remember Flag was conceived.
Butzler also shared that George traveled over 25,000 miles through 50 states on a five-month cross-country campaign to promote the Honor and Remember flag as a new national symbol. He planned to meet with every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to enlist each legislator's support for a bill that would make the flag, which honors individuals who died in military service to America, an official emblem of the United States.
George was ultimately successful.
The Honor and Remember Flag was unveiled at a ceremony on Memorial Day, May 26, 2008. The mission of Honor and Remember is to create, establish and promote a nationally recognized flag that will fly continuously as a visible reminder to all Americans of the lives lost in defense of national freedoms. The flag is meant to be a public symbol of appreciation that honors all military lives lost while serving since the nation’s inception.
Of note, personalized flags are now regularly presented to individual families of fallen service members. Each personalized flag contains the name, theater of operation and date of death of the individual. The flags are presented at both private and public occasions.
Honor and Remember, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
Here is to the success of one man's mission.
March 5, 2020
Community responds to third COVID-19 case
By Lynda Berg Olds
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and Public Health Madison and Dane County have announced that a third person has tested positive for COVID-19. The person was exposed while traveling in the United States and is currently isolated at home. County health officials are working to determine the people who have been in contact with the patient to isolate or quarantine people and test those who are exhibiting symptoms.
“We are working with our local health departments to make sure everyone who has been in contact with our confirmed cases is notified. We continue to urge state residents to take precautions to avoid illness,” said State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers. “As guidance is evolving, it’s important for people to monitor the DHS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites for the latest information and guidance on COVID-19.”
People who have traveled in the past 14 days to places where there is community spread of COVID-19 (international and domestic locations), are asked to self-quarantine themselves and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. If symptoms, like fever, cough, or difficulty breathing are present, they should contact their local health department and health care provider for possible testing. People should call ahead before arriving at a health care facility for testing.
“As this is the second confirmed case of COVID-19 in Dane County, we have the experience in caring for patients in isolation and contacting those who may have been in contact with the patient. We will continue working with DHS and CDC, as well as our local health care providers and other partners, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison and Dane County.
Public Health Madison and Dane County and the Department of Health Services responsibilities include:
Identifying and contacting anyone who has been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19. These people are asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days from their exposure and will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms. People with symptoms are tested for COVID-19.
Performing follow-up testing for individuals who test positive to determine when a person can be released from isolation.
Providing guidance to clinicians regarding testing.
Preparing Wisconsin for community spread of COVID-19.
If COVID-19 begins to spread in Wisconsin communities, state and local public health officials would consider community interventions such as temporary closures of child care facilities and schools, workplace social distancing, measures such as replacing in-person meetings with teleworking, and modifying, postponing or canceling mass gatherings. Decisions about the implementation of community measures would be made by state and local officials based on CDC guidance, as well as the scope of the outbreak.
People should follow simple steps to avoid getting sick, including:
Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water. Covering coughs and sneezes. Avoiding touching one's face and staying home when sick.
At the regular meeting of the Unity School Board on Tuesday night, District Administrator Brandon Robinson discussed measures the school is taking specific to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). He said information regarding Unity School District’s response to COVID-19 will be updated and shared on the District website at www.unity.k12.wi.us.
“Parents are encouraged to log in to Infinite Campus or contact their child’s school office to update their contact information if it has changed recently. The District’s Pandemic Preparedness Plan was updated specific to COVID-19, with guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“The District reviewed with custodial staff all cleaning and sanitizing procedures and products. Staff have increased deep cleaning procedures. Unity has provided handwashing and hygiene learning lessons for children and staff. Lines of communication with the Polk County Health Department have been developed to ensure timely response to emerging information.”
For ease of information, the County Ledger Press is providing the two letters (in part) found on Unity's website, beginning with the most recent March 9 missive, addressed to Unity Parents/Guardians and Staff:
As you may be aware, there was a presumptive positive case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) that attended a portion of the DI (Destination Imagination) Event this past Saturday in Osceola. Osceola is (was) closed on Tuesday to conduct the recommended cleaning (and school resumed as usual on Wednesday). There were some Unity students who participated in this event and some Unity adults in attendance. Out of an abundance of caution we are communicating this to you today.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Polk County Health Department:
“Students or staff who participated in the DI event are generally considered to be at low-risk for being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Attendees are being notified out of an abundance of caution. The recommendations for low-risk individuals are to self-monitor for fever and respiratory illness symptoms, and to self-isolate and contact their local health department or provider if symptoms appear. There is no recommendation for asymptomatic people who had a low risk exposure to quarantine themselves.
Anyone considered to be more than low-risk would be contacted individually by their health department for further assessment.”
The letter concludes by urging those with additional questions or concerns to contact their local health provider, noting this is an evolving situation and further updates specific to the District community may be provided on the Unity School District Website.
Prior to the March 7 Destination Imagination agitation, Robinson sent a letter to parents on March 5. What follows are excerpts from the letter titled, “Pandemic Parent Letter:”
The best way to address the transmission of COVID-19 is to practice normal preventative behaviors:
Regularly washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (length of the A-B-C song) or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
Staying home when sick.
Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or with the bend/crook of the arm when coughing or sneezing.
To clarify, there have been no identified cases of COVID-19 in our community. As COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and this is also influenza season, good hygiene and handwashing are the best prevention. Being prepared is one of the best ways to lessen the impact of an infectious disease outbreak like COVID-19 on your family and our schools.
Even if your family is prepared, an outbreak can be very stressful. Specifically, children may have difficulty understanding the situation and the accompanying stress. There is guidance available regarding how to communicate with your children about COVID-19. One resource online is: https://www.nctsn.org/resources/parent-caregiver-guide-to-helping-families-cope-with-the-coronavirus-disease-2019
Please contact us at (715) 825-3515 with any questions regarding the District’s pandemic preparedness. If you have any questions regarding the disease, your family’s preparation, and current cases, please visit these websites: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/outbreaks/index.htm
Destination Imagination Event
The DI event on Saturday, March 7, was a regional one – the St. Croix / West Central Wisconsin Region). The individual in attendance with the confirmed case of the Coronavirus was from Pierce County, but was not a student. The person evidently became infected while traveling within the United States.
Luck or St. Croix Falls students did not participate in the event. The only schools from Polk County taking part were Osceola, Unity and Amery.
The other teams were from Prescott (in Pierce County) Hudson, St. Croix Central, Baldwin/Woodville, New Richmond, Somerset, Glenwood City, Mondovi, Shell Lake and Cadott.
There is a mass quantity of articles at everybody's fingertips reporting on the latest development – hoarding. And it is most definitely right here in Polk County, as anyone who has tried to purchase hand sanitizer in the last week or so knows. But now, even the toilet paper shelves at Walmart are empty, as are the shelves for cleaning products like disinfecting wipes (see photos of the St. Croix Falls Walmart.
Some folks are just doing what has been recommended, stocking up with a two-week supply of what a household requires to sit out a potential 14-day quarantine.
But there is a mob mentality afoot. One source puts it, “The concept of loss aversion heavily factors into panic buying: how feeling like you're missing out on something can drive your spending.”
“These are the real-world consequences of panic buying,” one BBC broadcaster commented, noting that this hoarding, or “panic buying” phenomenon that happens in the face of a crisis, can drive up prices and take essential goods out of the hands of people who need them most (such as face masks for health workers).
While it is rational to stock up on emergency supplies, it is not rational to buy 500 cans of baked beans for what is likely to be a two-week isolation period. This is also referred to as a “herd mentality.” One might have a perfectly sensible shopping list, but when items deemed necessary are disappearing off the shelves, the tendency is to follow suit – so as not to miss out.
So why do people do it? Experts say the answer lies in a fear of the unknown, and believing that a dramatic event warrants a dramatic response – even though, in this case, the best response is something as mundane as simply washing one's hands.
March 12, 2020
Chief Deputy to head County Finance, HR and IT
By Lynda Berg Olds
The regular March 17 Polk County Board of Supervisors meeting was canceled due to COVID-19. Then, barely in time to satisfy proper notice laws, a meeting was called for noon on Friday, March 20. It was supposed to be a Skype and Telephone meeting, but turned out to be by phone only – and it was difficult to hear with a constant clicking noise on the line.
It was good they held the meeting for a number of reasons readers will see, but from an emotional aspect as well...as it was the last one for three long-term supervisors – a bittersweet affair to be sure. Supervisor Larry Jepsen has served in all manner of capacities, representing Polk County on one board or another all over the State – for 18 years!
As for Supervisor Dean Johansen, he has served as County Board Chairman since 2017 and has been on the board for a solid dozen years.
Another retiring supervisor is Mick Larsen, who has been on and off the board over a number of years.
It was actually at the end of this brief (for the county board) meeting that gratitude for years of service was sincerely expressed and there were good wishes all around. Some sounded like they may have got something in their eye (or that could have been the press, it's been a long time).
The first item of note was the Chairman's report. Chair Johansen advised that he had attended the (virtual) WITC District Board Appointment Committee on Thursday, where James Beistle, fondly known as “Mr. B” on Unity's School Board, was one of the three appointments to the that board. Johansen noted that WITC includes 11 counties, indicating this representation from Polk was a feather in county's hat.
“I'd also like to report that I have attended a number of COVID-19 staff emergency planning meetings here at the county. The chair can report that the county board and the public can rest assured, that the elected officials and hired staff are working and coordinating very well together on policies to meet the operational challenges of the county to deliver services to the public – and internal operational challenges also. There will be a comprehensive report coming out soon.”
Next came the County Administrator's report and Vince Netherland also wanted to comment on the series of meetings they have been having, extending appreciation for the support of staff and elected officials who have participated and given input during this time.
“Most of this past week, as you can imagine, has been dedicated to this new pandemic and as with any large organization it is important that we set up a structure and a communication process to ensure that we are attacking this thing in the most appropriate, consistent way, so that you don't have mixed signals or confusion.
“As a result, we have set up an Incident Command structure, spearheaded by our Public Health Director, Brian Kaczmarski, as well as Lisa McMann, our Emergency Services Coordinator. We also have an executive team with the staff, along with Chair Johansen to set policy for the operations of the organization.”
Netherland said the team has been meeting at least twice per day as things have been changing so rapidly, be it from the state or federal government – whether from health issues, personnel policies.
“Just so you know, what we are emphasizing with our staff and with the public, is first and foremost we are concerned about the safety of our employees and the public. With the help of Public Health and our medical professionals, we are implementing policies that will keep those people safe – but things change rapidly as we go and we have to stay on top of the most current information.
“At the same time we are committed to providing the services that are essential to the public. We are still working. We are still open. We will be adjusting procedures to keep the public and our employees safe. But our intent at this point is to continue to provide the necessary and urgent services.”
Netherland went on for a while but nobody could hear him.
Once again within the range of hearing, Netherland was talking about a Comprehensive Policy Guide, which was about to be sent out to all employees and county supervisors.
Next came a “happy/sad” issue Netherland shared.
“Our favorite Finance Director Maggie (Maggie the Magnificent) Wickre, has decided to retire (sniff). But I can assure you she is at peace and happy with her decision. She is going to be spending some quality time with family and her dog. She has decided to move quickly over the next couple of weeks to do that.”
Netherland said that with that change he had another announcement.
“We have named a new General Government Division Director, Chad Roberts, who will be transitioning from the Sheriff's Department over to Administration, where he will be over Human Resources, Finance and the IT area. Not only is Chad effective in personnel and IT, but he also has a strong finance background and he is going to be able to step in and provide leadership as Maggie transitions out.”
Netherland said he wanted to wish Roberts well in the new position and stated, “And I also want to wish my very best to an outstanding person – in Maggie.”
Then came the action items, with three resolutions approved, all by voice vote over the phone. The first was to set the compensation for elected officials including the County Clerk, Register of Deeds and the Treasurer for the term from Jan. 1 2021 through Jan. 1, 2024.
The gist of this resolution was to give the same annual raise to these elected officials and other county employees have received – 2.7 percent. This had been through committee and promptly approved, making the salaries of the clerk, treasurer and register $66,209 as of Jan. 1, 2021, with a 2.7 percent increase annually, bringing each of their salaries to $71,718 on Jan. 1, 2024.
The two other resolutions were also considered necessary measures and clearly, conversation about these resolutions had already taken place prior to their ready and unanimous approval.
Resolution 09-20 was to “Provide County Administration Emergency Administrative Flexibility for COVID-19; and Resolution 10-20 was to “Establish a Separate COVID-19 Virus Fund to Track Expenses.”
The final item (before the goodbyes) was to ratify an “Emergency Declaration of the Board Chair related to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”
Fare-thee-well Johansen, Jepsen and Larsen - from the County Ledger Press.
March 26, 2020
Centuria enacts two weeks paid leave
By Lynda Berg Olds
On the morning of March 24, Centuria Village President Stanley Swiontek sent the following (COVID-19 update) to Village Clerk/Treasurer Karen Edgell:
“Following the directives from Governor Evers beginning Wednesday, March 25, 2020, it is critical that all non-essential employees stay home. Non-essential employees who are unable to work as determined by their supervisor, will be eligible to use up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave, pending Board approval.
“Non-essential employees, using emergency leave under this provision, must be available to work as directed by their supervisor and may be directed to support activities for the COVID-19 response efforts.”
Swiontek stated further, “All Committee and Department meetings are canceled until further notice. The regularly scheduled Board Meeting on April 13 is canceled.”
To that end, a special meeting was called, which was held last Wednesday, to address how the village should move forward with services during this COVID-19 crisis. Edgell noted on the special meeting agenda that she willhave taken extra measures to provide a safe and clean room!
Present at this meeting were Trustees Steve Sylvester, Tom Boettcher, Chuck Ellsworth, Stan Swiontek and Kevin Kamish, along with Public Works Director Tony Weinzirl and Village Clerk/ Treasurer Karen Edgell. Trustee Katie Hamm was absent.
Village President Swiontek said the reason for the meeting was to follow along with federal, state and county guidelines and Weinzirl interrupted right off the bat and said, “If you don't mind, I will just give you a quick lowdown on what we've done so far – and in the reading of that statement, a lot of that stuff was based on healthy employees who don't have sick time coming and there is another line in there that the 80 hours kicks in once your accrued time is gone. In other words, for people who don't have any vacation or sick time coming.
[Editors note: included at the end of this story is the communique from Joel Brennan, Secretary of the State Department of Administration for the reader's edification.]
“I guess what I am looking at is a directive from you guys as to what you want me to do with the guys in the back. But before we do that, I will go through what we have done so far:
“Limited contact. We are not doing anything as far as people's basements. Unless it is an emergency, we are not coming in contact with people at all. If they call we will answer questions. If they come to the shop, we practice social distancing.
“The other day I contacted the Department of Health about the Gandy building and whether it should be open or closed. The recommendation at that time was to leave it open as they are encouraging people to get out and walk – and use the State and Town Parks.
“She did however say that if the building is going to be open, to try a couple times a day to wipe all the door handles and stuff, which we have been doing.
“As for the guys in the back, if anyone is feeling sick, no ifs, ands or buts, they are to go home. And we are following the CDC guidelines, which are a little different than the 14-day mandatory hide underneath your blankets. It is the seven days following onset of fever issues and things like that. That is what we are doing right now.”
Weinzirl said one of the reasons he wanted the board to meet right away was to sort out the employee guidelines.
“I have told them flat out, if they want to take time off they are welcome to it, but I don't think I have the authority to tell them they can take this week off and they will get paid for it. It is either without pay or PTO time. I don't feel comfortable mandating somebody to go home for a public health issue and then not paying them.”
Weinzirl went on to say that as First Responders they have been working non-stop with medical direction from Lakes Regions and Regions Hospital.
“We have changed up how some of our responses are. If you've seen the ambulances around, you see the guys jumping out with masks on as that is the protocol right now. They have changed how we do a lot of things as far as protecting everyone. Me and the guys have determined that we are going to kind of cherry pick the runs. And by that I mean in the past, so mom doesn't feel good and seven or eight guys would go into somebody's house. So we are changing things to minimize exposure and the possibility of having to quarantine and shut down the whole fire department.
“We have adjusted our responses accordingly – but we still go out the door. It is just the not-so-emergency issues that we are pulling ourselves back. I was on a conference call last night for an hour and a half with medical direction...a little kid breaks an ankle may be very traumatic for the kid, but it is not a medical emergency – he is not going to die because of it. We may even be stepping back from those, because who knows if the kid might have it?
“We are just trying to minimize exposure. We shut down training. We had a controlled burn planned for Saturday with Luck, Cushing, etc. – we had a big house fire we were going to do and I talked to the other chiefs and we shut it down...can you imagine if we had to quarantine five fire departments? So we are all being real cautious.
“But what I am looking for from you guys; we are considered an essential service; the directors of public works have been bouncing back and forth asking each other what they are doing. We all have the same basic ideas. Some or more elaborate than others. What do you want me to do?
“My personal thoughts are, we are doing what we are doing, but – if we end up with somebody ill or exposed, then we run the risk of quarantine. We could run as we are now, maintaining social distancing. We do a few things to minimize contact between each of us.”
Weinzirl discussed options of taking one or more guys “out of the loop,” minimizing exposure that way, and having one guy just run the weekends, taking care of rounds in the morning.
“I would be still at home and available so if Karen needs something I can come in. I will still have to come in and check emails for both the fire department and the village every day – because I am getting emails constantly for the fire department and public works. But herein lies the rub, I don't want to tell somebody they have to go home and then they are not getting paid.”
Village President Stan Swiontek stated, “We are doing this meeting so that if there is a chance for reimbursement, we are set to get in line to get money. Personally, I think it is our duty to protect our employees, so if we have to pay them for the 80 hours and don't get reimbursed, I don't feel it is something that we need to worry about. I don't think we should force employees to use their PTO time – they have vacations planned and other things.
“In terms of public works, in Minnesota they have already cut down to half crews, especially on the managerial side because if something happens to the crew that is there, they can sanitize and bring in a whole new crew. It is kind of the same thing here. If we can have one or two people off, in case something happens, we are not going to have three guys infected...and we will still have somebody who can come back and do our water and sewer. It is only for two weeks.”
Weinzirl noted he and his crew will be coming in to help Karen with the election.
“Rather than putting a number of hours on it, let's just leave it open as far as, we will do this until April 6 and then we will view where we stand as far as what the State is doing. Then if we need to push it out farther we could. It could be a whole lot worse.”
“It sure could,” agreed Swiontek.
Weinzirl expressed concern about what might happen after the 80 hours and said his recommendation would be to drop down to one guy doing rounds, the one who is not a First Responder and on the Fire Department.
Swiontek made it pretty clear he was leaving it up to Weinzirl, as fire chief, how he was going to run that department, as well as public works. He also remarked that he did not think they had to be worried about reimbursement at this time.
“We can worry about that when and if the time comes,” he said. “We might not get reimbursed.”
Weinzirl said he had emails from FEMA telling him to keep track of everything that is being spent outside the norm – for future returns.
Swiontek said that is exactly what Village Attorney Tim Laux had told him – to just keep track of things.
“But you cannot worry about reimbursement when you have to think about the safety of your people,” he said emphatically. “Given that, you run the public works department. You do what you see fit, how you see fit. Right now we are only looking at these two weeks – and we will reevaluate down the road. And I don't want anybody using their PTO. I don't think that is fair. This is outside of our control and I don't care what the State does – I don't think it is fair for us to tell you, you have to use your PTO.”
There was concern about a public works employee who also works at Menards. Swiontek didn't think he should be getting paid at one job for staying home – and then going to another (high traffic area) job.
Trustee Steve Sylvester asked what would happen if this employee was working at Menards and Weinzirl needed help.
Edgell noted that has actually happened several times – and Weinzirl said the employee was able to respond and come and help the village – all but one time.
“Yes, he has left work to come and help,” stated Weinzirl. And Edgell indicated this employee has been at Menards for so many years, they know what to expect (or perhaps rather to expect the unexpected).
“As long as they are available to come in if there is an emergency,” stressed Sylvester
“Yes,” said Weinzirl. “That was one of the factors that I said, 'If I am paying you to stay home, you better darn well be home when I call you – and not off doing something else. If you want to go do something else, then that is on you, you shouldn't be getting paid...because we are supposed to be sheltering in place.”
Sylvester concurred, saying, “Then the employee should take their PTO – if they want to go ice fishing or whatever.”
Trustee Chuck Ellsworth stated, “There should be no 'double-dipping.'
Before action was taken, Edgell wanted to share a bit of information from Attorney Laux:
“You as a village have an obligation, not a 'should I, could I,' you have an obligation to your employees to promote goodwill, to be generous, to provide benefit to be healthy employees.”
This meeting, again, was last Wednesday, and the board, as per the 'guidelines' set forth, passed a motion to pay employees until April 6.
“So if anybody is taking time off because of this, they will not get paid after April 6. If they work, they work, if they don't work, that is when we pay them. I know some villages went to three hours per day in the office, with a note on the door.”
So everyone was clear on the motion that was to be passed, Edgell read aloud the letter Swiontek had penned the day before [the first three paragraphs of this article].
“So that covers our discussion I believe,” stated Swiontek.
Weinzirl reiterated, “I just want to make clear that what I am doing is the right thing. As I said, tomorrow will come, this thing will be done and we will have to look back and see what we've done and was it right, wrong or otherwise.”
Swiontek stated, “Our main goal here as an employer is to look out for the health, welfare and the betterment of our employees. Without you, where would we be?”
“What I am going to do is run a skeleton staff, almost like weekend work, doing rounds,” advised Weinzirl. “I will be in for a couple hours each day to check emails and then just bug out and wait for phone calls in case something goes south.”
Sylvester asked Weinzirl if they were riding two to a pickup and he said that as of this afternoon, not anymore.
“We were going to start flushing sewers, but I pulled back on that.”
The quarters are close and two people are working side by side in that situation.
“It comes down to common sense,” stated Sylvester.
The board concurred, and the motion (the aforementioned letter from Swiontek), was passed unanimously by voice vote. The board then adjourned with no further fanfare.
As promised, here is the letter from Secretary Brennan, dated Monday, March 23, and addressed to State employee colleagues:
“We appreciate everyone’s continued dedication during these unprecedented times and the COVID-19 pandemic. As Governor Evers announced, it is critical that Wisconsin residents stay at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is vitally important that we take the steps necessary to control the spread of COVID-19, ensure our state employees are safe, and maintain our ability to provide essential government services.
“Beginning Wednesday, March 25, 2020, all non-essential state employees shall work from home. Public access to state buildings will be restricted to those areas in which the public is accessing essential services. Employee access to the buildings will be maintained as if it were a weekend.
“Additionally, effective March 25, 2020, we are adjusting the emergency administrative leave program to reflect these additional steps that are necessary to preserve public health. Non-essential employees, who are unable to work from home as determined by their supervisor, will be eligible to use up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave. Non-essential employees, using emergency administrative leave under this provision, must be available to work as directed by their supervisor and may be directed to support various activities around the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.
“We understand this is a stressful time for many of us. It is important to know you aren’t alone and that we can and will provide support in the days to come. The following resources are available to all state employees:
“Employee Assistance Program (EAP) resources remain available to state employees. These comprehensive, confidential services include financial consultations, as well as counseling that can be provided over the phone and/or face-to-face for the topics of: Stress, depression, and personal problems; balancing work and personal needs; family and relationship concerns; alcohol or drug dependency; and workplace conflicts. You can call 1-800-985-5590 to speak to a trained crisis counselor. English speakers can also text TalkWithUS to 66747.
“If you elect coverage through Employee Trust Funds (ETF), they have compiled important links onto one landing page. Call 211 or 877-947-2211 to be connected up with nonprofit and government services in your area, including food pantries.”
Emergency Administrative Leave
“The state is authorizing for certain employees the use of up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave to cover pandemic-related time away from work. Eligible employees include: All non-essential limited term employees except those limited term employees hired in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or - all permanent, project, and appointed employees with no available leave balances other than future legal holiday, or - all non-essential permanent, project, and appointed employees who, as determined by their supervisor, are unable to telework.
“Note: Employees who are required to be present for operational necessity are ineligible unless the employer directed them home for flu-like symptoms or the employee is under quarantine at the direction of a health care provider or the employer.
“Accordingly, eligible employees may record up to a total of 80 hours, or prorated portion thereof, of paid administrative leave during the period of this public health emergency. This leave may be used by eligible employees for:
“Providing self or family care in relation to the pandemic, including but not limited to self-quarantine, self-isolation, being sent home with flu-like symptoms, care of an immediate family member, and child care due to school/day care closures, or
“Covering normal work hours for those employees who, as determined by their supervisor, are unable to telework. Employees utilizing administrative leave under this provision must be available to work and may be assigned duties related to the state’s COVID-19 response.”