Covid-19 concerns, communication and closed sessions

Benton Supervisors Meeting, Feb. 23, at the Service Center.

By Jim Magdefrau

VINTON – Most of the Feb. 23 meeting of the Benton County Board of Supervisors was spent discussing the minutes of the Feb. 2 meeting, focusing on a closed session at that meeting at the county’s service center.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, officials went over which code section to cite to go into the closed session regarding the county’s Covid-19 plan, which restricts access to the courthouse and county facilities.

At the Feb. 23 meeting, Benton County Attorney David Thompson gave the board options on dealing with the Feb. 2 closed session. He also covered related issues from that meeting on contracts and communications.

He said the board could have gone with Iowa Code 21.5k, which had been used in previous closed sessions. After research, he felt the best argument was for 21.9, which deals with strategies related to employment conditions not covered by collective bargaining. This would make the matter exempt from the open meetings law, Thompson advised.

Thompson said he has tried to give advice to the board on what would minimize the stress caused by these meetings, such as a closed meeting to vent issues. This hasn’t reduced stressed, so Thompson wondered if the county shouldn’t just open up these discussions. “It doesn’t seem to me that we have been lowering any stress the way we have been doing it,” Thompson observed.

Restricted courthouse access is still in effect until April 6, as decided at the Feb. 2 meeting. Thompson stressed the courthouse is still open. They are now “managing the floodgate” on access. People can still get into the building and conduct business.

As for communications, Thompson discussed how his office is engaged to do work for the supervisors, saying he wasn’t consulted in advance of the Feb. 2 meeting, regarding the closed session. He felt the minutes were one-sided in the arguments about the closed session, calling it a “kerfuffle” of a meeting.

Thompson said minutes should not be published until approved by the board, feeling the published minutes weren’t accurate. Deputy Auditor Gina Edler pointed to the Iowa Code, stating there is a deadline the county has to follow, and minutes are to be submitted to be published no later than one week after a meeting.

The board approved citing Section 21.9 of the code, under advice of counsel, for the Feb. 2 minutes, and also revised discussion on office space held at the Feb. 2 meeting.

There was also discussion on who how to keep track of county contracts and agreements that need to be renewed. Again, communication was stressed between the board and the attorney’s office.

Other business

A land use hearing was set for Tuesday, March 23, at 9:15 p.m. for Matt and Tiffany Rolling, for land in Section 25, Benton Township.

A cost-share contract amendment was approved for watershed management.

Weed commissioner Ben Bonar received approval for advertising for seasonal drivers and an intern, after discussion on hourly wages.

Sheriff Ron Tippett discussed use of the old transportation building. The sheriff and emergency management’s Scott Hansen are looking to store the mass casualty trailer, generators, shelter trailer and light towers. They would like to get this equipment under a roof. The weed commission is also looking for space for tractors and a chipper. They also discussed that because of the flood threat, anything stored in there should be mobile.

Tippett also gave an update on the multi-county sexual assault response team. Benton County’s share is $4,333 for the rest of this year. Benton County is looking to work with three other counties, Jones, Buchanan and Delaware. The funds were approved, subject to a 28E agreement.

A utility permit was approved for Central Iowa Power Cooperative in Kane and Union Townships. This is related to moving of poles due to construction on Highway 30.

The annual report for the historical preservation commission was presented and approved. The report will be sent to the state. Phil Borleske of the commission said they have accomplished a lot this year, and they have big plans for 2021, including a national conference. This year they worked on windows for Spencer Grove Church, improvements at Preston Station in Belle Plaine, a garage at Youngville and St. Michael’s Church in Norway for steeple repair. Borleske pointed out a lot of historic buildings were lost in the August wind storm.

The hearing for the county’s budget was set for March 23 at 10:30 a.m.

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