The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, during an Aug. 3 meeting, agreed to limit public access to the courthouse, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

Special District Judge Jerry Moore said there have been instances in other counties where they’ve shut down court clerk’s offices due to the heavy traffic.

“We’ve now had to shut down the court clerk’s office in Sequoyah County for a second time and the court clerk’s office in Okmulgee County,” said Moore. “We’re very concerned about our court clerk’s office and we’re hoping that either you will allow them to rotate their staff or leave it up to them.”

District 1 Commissioner Doug Hubbard said rotating staff would be the last resort, seeing as employees out in the field don’t have that option.

“We’ve got staff that works in the field and they work every day. They don’t rotate; they meet people out on the roads, but not a whole lot,” said Hubbard. “It’s hard for us to justify paying someone when they're off work if they’re rotating around. But my mind is easily swayed if someone can tell me if rotation works well.”

Hubbard asked if rotating staff was beneficial for the court clerk, assessor’s office, treasurer’s office, and county clerk.

“I think it’s more of a preventative [move], and none of our offices have had anybody get sick. I would say it wouldn’t be negative,” said Treasurer Patsy Stafford.

District 2 Commissioner Mike Brown asked if the court clerk’s office could go virtual when it comes to filing paperwork.

“Right now, we can do online pay, but Administrative Offices of Courts doesn’t allow much,” said Lesa Rousey-Daniels. “I know they’re in the works and trying to get something set up by the judges to be able to do virtual things. There are a lot of things they don’t allow because they say there are so many people trying to tap into them.”

District 3 Commissioner Clif Hall said they’ve hired security to take temperatures and make sure those coming into the courthouse are wearing masks.

“We’ve implemented the masks and we’ve put in $4,000 worth of plexiglass and guards. We’ve been proactive regarding our employees and keeping them from someone who is sneezing or coughing from this virus,” said Hall. “It’s not if we’re going to get it, it’s when we’re going to get it. Everyone is going to get this.”

Brown said they needed a contingency plan in place, in case a problem arises in the future.

“We need the backup, if we can use a virtual go-to and some type of platform where we can go virtual,” he said. “That’s something we’d have to work out with the state to see, but that way, nobody is out of work, everybody is on the clock, and they’re working.”

The board agreed to reinstall drop boxes outside the courthouse and limit the number of people coming into the building.

Sheriff Jason Chennault asked Moore if judges will still have court appearances, and added that if so, limiting access won’t work.

“If we’re letting people come in for court appearances, all we’re doing is just keeping people out of our offices,” Chennault said. “I don’t see one working without the other.”

Moore said due to an order by the Supreme Court, judges have to hold court, and they don’t have the authority to say otherwise. However, he agreed with the sheriff and said he would consult with District Judge Doug Kirkley about only having court on the second floor.

“I just think we’re defeating the purpose of limited access to the courthouse if we’re letting those [due in court] on the third floor,” Chennault said.

The commissioners said people who must be inside the courthouse have to call the appropriate offices they need to conduct business with, must don masks, and have their temperature checked at the lobby entrance. Hubbard said this move will be effective within two weeks.

What’s next

The next Board of Cherokee County Commissioners meeting is Monday, Aug. 17, at 9 a.m. at the Cherokee County Courthouse.

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