Supervisors extend emergency order through May 2021 to allow for continued virtual meetings
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
MERRILL – The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors and county committees will be able to meet virtually through May 2021 following a vote by the board to extend the county’s emergency order.
The board originally ratified an emergency order due to the COVID-19 pandemic in April. The order, which allows for county meetings to be held with teleconferencing technology, was extended by 120 days in July.
When the board extended the order this summer, Administrative Coordinator Jason Hake said 120 days would allow the Administrative and Legislative Committee enough time to draft an ordinance specifically to allow for teleconferencing to continue without an emergency order in place.
However, the A&L committee did not draft a resolution in that time, but rather chose to forego an ordinance in favor of the emergency order extension.
District 13 Supervisor Calvin Callahan and District 8 Supervisor Christopher Heller expressed their opinions that the emergency order should not be extended solely to continue to allow for virtual meetings, and an ordinance should be enacted for that specific purpose.
“It’s been three months,” Heller said. “That’s enough time to make an ordinance.”
Heller noted that the board can “take it back if we don’t want to continue on” with virtual meetings, and stated that he would vote “no” on the resolution to extend the emergency order.
Board Chair Kevin Koth said the issue of drafting a teleconferencing ordinance has appeared on the A&L committee’s agendas “almost every month,” but the committee ultimately “couldn’t decide, ‘Once the pandemic is over, are we going to continue with the teleconferences or Zoom meetings?’”
Koth added that there would be numerous decisions to be made regarding the ordinance, including how many meetings Supervisors would be allowed to attend virtually. Other issues discussed included how to hold closed session meetings virtually and challenges presented by county equipment deemed inadequate.
District 18 Supervisor Patricia Voermans said she had attended A&L committee meetings in which drafting a teleconferencing ordinance was discussed.
“It was a lot more complicated than I thought,” she stated. “And my understanding is the emergency order, which I’m very comfortable with, gives us the ability to do this right now, and it is critical, I think, for us to be able to attend the meetings this way until (the COVID-19 pandemic) is over.”
District 10 Supervisor Jeremy Ratliff pointed to to the recent increase in local COVID-19 cases and deaths as a reason to continue with virtual meetings.
“The fact is if this is going to enable Supervisors, including myself, to put their health first while still upholding their duty to their constituents in their elected roles, I see this as a no-brainer,” he stated.
District 11 Supervisor Hans Breitenmoser expressed his support for extending the emergency order, calling it “a simple, effective means by which we can get through this pandemic.”
“To me, this is pretty straightforward,” he said. “It’s common sense. There’s no harm to this.”
A resolution to extend the emergency order through May 2021 was ultimately passed with a 17 to 4 vote.