County board holds emergency meeting; takes action on two policies related to COVID-19

Heather Larson, Douglas County commissioner

To sort through how employees could work from home in response to the coronavirus outbreak and the statewide stay-at-home orders that have been issued, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon.

They approved two policies – telecommunication and new family medical leave – but not without plenty of debate on both.

The 12-page telecommunication policy, which includes a safety checklist and a three-page agreement that employees, their supervisor and county coordinator (or designee) must sign – was approved by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Heather Larson voted against it. She wanted the action tabled until the next meeting, but her motion failed for a lack of a second.

Larson said she had a lot of issues with the policy, including that a written request needs to be submitted in advance to the employee’s supervisor and department head and then submitted for final consideration to the county coordinator or designee. She said Lee Katzmarek, the county’s human resource director, should make the decision because he is the HR person.

Larson was told Katzmarek would be weighing in on the decision as he is the designee, but that the supervisor and department head would also be a part of the recommendation process.


Larson also took issue with another part of the policy that states: A denial of the request at any stage of the review process will be final, with no further review.

“I do not agree with the no further review,” she said.

Katzmarek explained if an employee were to be denied, there would have to be some hard reasons why, such as maybe the person wouldn’t be able to perform their job at home because of access issues or maybe even performance reasons.

Larson said she respected his opinion on it but disagreed. She felt that the approval should come from Katzmarek but that if there was a denial, it should be addressed at a committee level.

Commissioner Charlie Meyer said the policy is a special deal right now because of the pandemic and that the county could revisit it three or six months down the road.

“I hear what you are saying,” he told Larson. “But we have to go with people who work with the person making the request.”

Commissioner Tim Kalina agreed, saying that the department head would know more about the employee and could help make the decision. He said the department head would have the best input.

After a little more debate, the board approved the policy for now, removing the sentence, “A denial of the request at any stage of the review process will be final, with no further review.”


New family medical leave policy

A new federal mandate dealing with paid sick leave was put into place starting April 1 and running through Dec. 31. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

The new Response Act spells out paid leave, eligible employees and qualifying reasons for leave related to COVID-19.

Katzmarek said that the county is allowed to make some changes to the act, such as determining which employees are eligible.

A stipulation to the act was drafted and reads as follows:
In accordance with the Federal Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, Douglas County intends to comply with all aspects of this Families First Coronavirus Response Act as well as identify those positions falling under the categories of Emergency Responders and Health Care and Public Health which may be excluded from the FFCRA Emergency Leave provisions.

Emergency Responders: Emergency management; facility maintenance at the Services Center and at Public Works; informational technology at the Services Center and at Public Works; Public Works in general; sheriff deputies, correctional officers, dispatchers, all other supervisory and support.

Health care and public health: social workers and necessary supervisory and support.

As allowed under the new Response Act, Douglas County will exclude the above positions from the Federal Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act.

The commissioners debated for quite some time on whether they needed to adopt their own policy or just abide by the federal mandate. Larson was adamant that the county did not need to adopt its own policy. Other commissioners seemed unsure and asked questions about it.


Katzmarek reiterated that the county had control to exclude the emergency responders, health care and public health.

In the end, the county’s policy was approved, but Larson voted no.

However, another emergency meeting was held on Wednesday because of the confusion over the policy. The board approved rescinding Tuesday’s action of adopting the county’s own policy.

After more debate and discussion Wednesday, and at the direction of County Attorney Chad Larson, the board decided by a 3-1 vote to just follow the federal mandate for the new Response Act and not exclude any departments.

Board Chairman Keith Englund voted against it. Under the advice of the county attorney, Heather Larson abstained.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners tabled their discussion on a policy regarding advances on sick leave. They will discuss that issue, with possible action, at the April 7 regular board meeting.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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