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RBC | Rio Blanco County commissioners started work sessions early Tuesday to accommodate a busy schedule. ERBM Maintenance Manager Rodney Gerloff requested assistance inventorying trees in Meeker’s parks. Gerloff said ERBM could benefit from County Planner Leif Joy’s GIS and drone expertise to map trees in an effective way. With approval from the board, Joy plans to assist with the project.
CSU Extension Director Linda Masters informed the board that the extension office is required to have its own advisory board. Masters said she is working on creating one, and wants it to have representatives from both sides of the county.
She also gave a year-end update, noting last year’s efforts to develop remote attendance abilities as a result of COVID-19 capacity restrictions. She expressed that even as things return to normal, she expects to continue to utilize remote attendance as a resource, though she still encourages in-person attendance as much as possible.
Masters also spoke about work on extension office programs including upcoming drought mitigation webinars, educational 4-H events in Meeker and Rangely, a master gardening program, and something to address mental health in the agricultural community, to name a few.
Following a storage server crash last month, Information/IT staff Trevor Nielsen and Dylon Merrell shared information about potential recovery options for corrupted data. Some of the information lost in the server crash included GIS data from the county assessor, some drawings related to road and bridge projects, weed department data, utility and other data from the towns of Meeker and Rangely and more.
Recovering the data could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 depending on how damaged the corrupted data are. Assessing the drives will cost $2,600 before a more concrete price can be determined.
Roy Gilbert, speaking for the Range Call committee, spoke to the board about a dispute at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds over sponsorship banners in the arena. According to Gilbert, Summer Series Rodeo organizers want Range Call sponsors’ banners to be taken down during rodeo series events. The board plans to meet with Gilbert and a representative for the Summer Rodeo Series at a future date to discuss a resolution.
Public Information and Program Manager Carly Thompson asked commissioners if the county will again produce 500 copies of the publication “Living in Rio Blanco,” a magazine distributed throughout the area. Commissioners Moyer and Rector both expressed positive feelings about the publication and said it was a good investment. The production will take up more than half of the county’s marketing budget, unless they can secure a grant or other funding source.
RBC Facilities Director Eric Jaquez shared information about ongoing repairs on a failed AC unit for a computer room. He said total repairs will come to around $12,000 including money spent to rent temporary cooling units for the room.
Jaquez also updated the board about the Meeker Airport drainage review which he says is being designed for a 100-year storm event and will utilize a splitter box for water at Highway 13, instead of installing a new pipe under the road.
Commissioners approved various items including DBE plans for the Meeker and Rangely Airports, new rules and a boarding contract for Columbine Park, and a letter in support of state funding for economic development organizations. They also appointed Tia Murray as the county Director of Human Services (Murray will divide her time with Moffat County 60/40), and approved advertising for a detention deputy and relief control room specialist.
At the request of commissioner Jeff Rector, the board discussed Weld County’s efforts to secede from the state of Colorado. Rector called the effort “a far reach” but said he applauded Weld’s efforts. Moyer and Gates agreed that the effort was a good one, but said they didn’t expect it to go anywhere since it would require an act of Congress, and would change the map of the United States.
The board voted unanimously to support Weld County in their effort. The stated goal was to “send a political message” to the governor.
The board reconvened for an executive session Tuesday afternoon with Public Health Department staff. The purpose for the executive session on the agenda was stated as conferencing with the county attorney “for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions and §246402(4)(e) C.R.S. determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations: developing strategy for negotiations: and instructing negotiators.” Public Health Director Alice Harvey said she had requested a work session to get guidance from the board and asked what needed to be discussed in an executive session. Commissioner Moyer said they were planning to discuss personnel matters. Starr told Harvey and Rangely Public Health Nurse Sarah Coker the executive session could be made public if they wanted, and both agreed they wanted the discussion public.
Commissioner Moyer opened the discussion by stating that the board had major concerns, and wanted to be “as clear as possible” about their expectations as Harvey’s employer. Referring to the county’s position to not enforce state health mandates, Moyer said, “We expect you to be supportive of the policy that we make,” and adding, “We just feel like we’re not getting that support out of you.”
Harvey asserted that her department has always been supportive of the board’s policies, and asked for specific examples.
Moyer cited “friction” and a “lack of trust” with local medical facilities as a result of the public health department failing to play a supportive role, as directed by the board of commissioners. Commissioner Rector emphasized further. “I think we oughta be a supporting role for our hospitals, and we shouldn’t be mandating policies to them…I’m not sure that’s exactly how they feel right now,” he said.
Moyer commended Harvey’s efforts throughout the pandemic, in terms of vaccine distribution and other roles, but said, “I feel we’ve been misled as to what the relationship has been with these other partners.”
Harvey said her department had done its best to support and fulfill all requests from the local hospitals, and had not received any complaints directly. “Unless there has been communication with the board that has not been directed toward my department so we can fix it, we are not aware of any problems that have existed,” said Harvey.
County Attorney Todd Starr said, “You don’t have a good read of your relationship with either hospital,” after noting that it had been less than a week since hospital administrators expressed “grave concern about their relationship with public health.”
Commissioner Ty Gates said Public Health may have a good relationship with the people they work with directly, but stated, “There’s been instances that the administration feels was overreaching maybe, or could be taken as throwing them under the bus.”
Rector also raised the issue of mask mandates for high school sports. “You guys don’t have the ability to change that nor do we, but so many people in our community think that you have that ability, or that this board does” said Rector, adding that there was a need for clear messaging.
Harvey said all public messaging from her department had been clear about the county’s position on enforcing COVID restrictions. She said the department had declined to enforce Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) recommendations during outbreak events in businesses, and said they would continue to decline those recommendations in compliance with county policy.
Referencing a recent outbreak at one of the high schools, Harvey reiterated that local public health did not follow direct guidance from CDPHE in accordance with the county’s policies and the school district’s desire to keep schools open. “The [CDPHE] recommendation was to close the high school. We said no thank you, please do not contact the high school because we will handle this locally.”
Harvey also expressed frustration over the position she and her staff found themselves in between the state and the county. “We are required to work with CDPHE, we are required to educate the public about public health recommendations, there is nothing political about this to us,” said Harvey, adding they did not feel the board had supported the public health department.
Moyer responded, “The obligation is for our departments to support us,” and stated, “We’ve got to be able to ask questions without you getting defensive,” before reiterating that messaging from the public health department was not clear when it came to informing businesses that they could choose to ignore state health mandates.
Harvey said her department receives hundreds of calls every day and noted that her staff has been consistent and clear about the county’s messaging. “I’ve trained my staff very clearly on how to answer those questions,” said Harvey.
Public Health Assistant Beth Willey shared her experience talking to event coordinators since she started in August. “When they speak to me, I tell them first thing ‘the commissioners are not going to shut you down, they’re not going to enforce it,’” said Willey, adding that she provides information on the current COVID-19 dial status and case numbers so that event coordinators can make their own decisions. “I know on the event part of it, that the messaging has gone out,” said Willey.
Rector called what had happened prior to the meeting “water under the bridge” and expressed a desire to move forward with better communication between the board and the public health department. Harvey agreed with the need for better and more frequent communication. She said she had made multiple requests for regular meetings to receive guidance from commissioners, noting that those meetings had not taken place despite assurances from the board.
“We need direction and guidance from you,” said Harvey. “We’re working overtime unpaid to make sure our community needs are met and we get nothing but positive feedback from our community, and from our hospitals.”
Moyer said he was OK with having regular update meetings and wanted to emphasize three points. “Be careful that you’re not overreaching, respect the fact that we set policy, and be professional,” said Moyer. “We’ve got to be able to share what we maybe have heard, and you can simply say ‘no that’s not the case.’”
“That would be great and I’ve asked for that for months now,” Harvey responded.
Harvey and board members agreed to begin holding bi-monthly work sessions to discuss any concerns that arise, and for public health to receive guidance from the board.
VACCINE ELIGIBILITY VERIFICATION
In the effort to distinguish between county policy and CDPHE recommendations, Harvey asked the board for guidance on how to verify vaccine eligibility. Her request came in response to commissioners’ concerns that the public health department might vaccinate people who don’t reside in or have legitimate connections to Rio Blanco County.
As a CDPHE enrolled provider of vaccinations, RBC Public Health is required to follow set regulatory guidelines, or risk violating their signed enrollment agreement. The agreement requires providers to follow and state vaccine regulations, including vaccinating anyone who is eligible, whether they reside in the county or not. Harvey noted that violating the agreement could pose a risk to the county’s vaccine allocations.
“So I cannot in good conscience ignore the parameters in which I’m allowed to give those shots, without communicating to this group, here are the risks” said Harvey.
She noted the guidelines also don’t allow vaccine providers to ask for identification, but they do not specifically note that you can’t “ask” for proof of residence.
Board members said vaccines should first go to people who “are affiliated with Rio Blanco County,” though commissioner Moyer admitted the definition was “gray.” He said it should include anyone who is working, going to school, or who owns a second home in the county. He noted that it would also make sense logistically for RBC Public Health to serve Dinosaur residents.
Todd Starr suggested a “fast-pass” type system for administering vaccines as a way to stay compliant with both state health orders and commissioner’s requests. The idea would be to ask people what their affiliation is with the county, if they did not have one, they’d go to the back of the line until all residents and/or those affiliated with RBC got their shots first. Starr mentioned he wasn’t sure if that type of system would comply with the state’s direction.
Harvey said she would be open to implementing that type of system, but wanted to get the state on record about whether or not it could jeopardize the county’s vaccine allocation.
By LUCAS TURNER | firstname.lastname@example.org