The Commissioners Court held its first meeting Tuesday afternoon with a full agenda since the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were put in place earlier this month. The Court met last week, but the agenda was limited to just extending the Disaster Declaration from County Judge John Gothia issued the week before for 30 days.
Judge Gothia, the four Commissioners, and County Clerk Brandy Robertson who recorded the meeting made up more than half of those attending on Tuesday. Gothia described future meetings might be handled like this one with a live stream through the Orange County Office of Emergency Management and that this will be the new norm until further notice.
Citizens’ comments will be received at the judge’s office and will be read at the beginning of the meetings. The Commissioners Courtroom will be strictly limited to just ten persons. “It doesn’t stop the public from coming up, but you just might not be able to get in the room,” Gothia said.
Human Resources Director Lori Ardoin and Assistant County Attorney Denise Gremillion explained to the Court the details of the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Gremillion said the county had discussed establishing its own policies concerning employees being affected by COVID-19. President Donald Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which is now the policy the county will follow beginning Wednesday, April 1.
Under the act any full-time employee who is sick under a quarantine order or exhibiting any kind of symptoms causing a quarantine order will be paid the mandatory 80 hours for a two-week pay period. Part-time employees will be paid the average of their salary for the same two-week pay period. The policy will run through the conclusion of the year 2020.
Another aspect is the Expanded Family Medical Leave Act which calls for employees to be paid two-thirds of their regular salary for ten weeks if they need to stay home with a child that fits the criteria because of the closing of schools and many daycare centers. Gothia stated the county had no choice and would follow the new policy.
Another highlight of the meeting was the Commissioners Court approving the Sheriff’s Office to purchase ten 2020 Ford Explorers. The purchase will not be a capital outlay budgeted item. Instead Sheriff Keith Merritt recommended using forfeiture funds his department has which required approval by the Court.
The ten Explorers will cost $410,755. Merritt told the Commissioners he spoke to the sheriff-elect Lane Mooney who was in agreement with the use of the forfeiture funds to purchase the vehicles.
The MIS Department was approved to purchase a new server for the Sheriff’s Office Spillman software. The budgeted item will cost about twelve thousand dollars.
A new permit was approved for Parkwood Land Company in Vidor to restore the levy located north of Interstate 10 and east of the Neches River to its pre-Harvey conditions. The Corps of Engineers has instructed the property’s owner Sonny Stevenson to remove all material in violation with FEMA and flood plain standards. Stevenson attended the meeting and thanked the Court for granting him the permit to do the work.
-Dan Perrine, KOGT-