By MARK EVANS
Jeanette Wood, provisional director of the Ste. Genevieve County Health Department, informed the County Commission that there were 24 active COVID-19 cases in the county at last Thursday’s commission meeting, with one new case. That moved the county’s total to 185. An additional four individuals were considered “probable,” Wood said.
Wood said the continued rise in cases was not unexpected.
“People were thinking, ‘August is next week,’ and were going on vacation,” she said. “Also, people went back to work locally, as well as working out of town. Same of those people who were working at home, companies have called them back.”
She noted that schools opening also played a role in the increase. However, part of the problem, Wood believes, is lack of continued stringent following of guidelines.
“People are lax about wearing masks,” she said. I know when I leave here, you’ll think, ‘Thank goodness she’s leaving and not talking about masks.’ But I just can’t say it enough, how important it is.”
She said the children are doing a better job of complying than adults.
“If you look at the children running around they have their masks on, which is good,” Wood said. “The schools, I think as a while, have done a very good job of doing everything in their power to curtail it.”
NELSON DOUBLES DOWN ON LACK OF AUTHORITY
Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson mentioned that the St. Francois County Health Department passed a county-wide mask mandate.
Nelson has said from the very beginning of the outbreak in the early spring that the commission is not authorized to make county-wide health mandates. That would fall on the health department, he has argued all along.
Nelson also responded to reports that Carl Kinsky, former county prosecuting attorney and now a health board member, had supposedly called the commissioners “gutless” at a health board meeting earlier that week for not issuing a mandate.
“They’ve got an attorney on their board who can’t read statutes,” Nelson said. “He thinks it’s our responsibility. Jefferson County, two weeks ago their health board made the decision to require masks, then rescinded the decision the next day. But, it’s the health department board that makes a public mandate.”
Nelson added that while the mandate may be made by health departments, actually being able to enforce it is a different matter, such as one just enacted by the St. Francois County Health Board.
“The sheriff and the city police has no authority to arrest people for not wearing a mask,” Nelson said. “It’s not enforceable.”
It was suggested that it might only be enforceable was as a “piggyback” to some other crime, such as a public altercation. This would be similar to seat belt tickets being given along with other traffic violations.
“The big point I’m wanting to make for probably the 45th, 50th time is they’ve got the authority,” Nelson said. “We don’t. I’ve got the statute right here. I’ve read it so many times, I can read it backwards.
“Yet one of the health board members went off on the county commission last night because we don’t do a mandate that we don’t have the authority to do. Now, he’s a lawyer, but I guess he’s not smart enough to read statutes.
“When he went mouthing off last night, he went over the line, calling us gutless commissioners, when it’s his responsibility.”
QUESTIONS LINGER ABOUT APPOINTMENT
Wood’s appointment continued to be under a cloud of uncertainty as the commissioners awaited work from the state on whether Wood, who had served on the health board until she was offered the administrator or director position would have to wait a year before taking the position.
Nelson has also questioned why statutes seen to say that commissioners must appoint health department directors annually, while they do not appoint directors of other entities, such as the ambulance district.
Nelson called the situation “a mess.”
“It’s kind of difficult to manage and do my job, but I’m going to do it,” Wood said.
“Like I told you, you keep the hammer down until somebody in authority tells you, ‘Hey, you can’t do this,’” Nelson told Wood.
“It had better be pretty high authority,” Wood said.
Nelson has said that he and the other commissioners have no issue with Wood taking the position. Their only concerns are the legality of her holding the position after serving on the board that oversees the position and the technicality of which entity needs to officially make the appointment.
Robert Bach, health board president, sent the commission a letter, arguing that the one-year ban was intended only for paid lobbyists.
“It doesn’t apply here for at least two reasons,” Bach wrote. “First the Count Health department board is not paying the administrator to attempt to influence the board’s decisions. Second, the County Health Deportment board is not a political subdivision of the state.”
He cited State v. Hodge, 841 SA.W.2d 681 (Mo. banc. 199) as ruling that county health centers should only be considered subdivisions for the purpose of employee insurance and retirement plans.
“I don’t feel it’s our job to interpret statutes,” Nelson said. “This is too big of a deal, I think for the three of us to say this is the way we’re going to do it, when you have two conflicting statutes.
“We’re trying to sort through it and make everything legal.”
SCHMIEDER: PATCHING IS GETTING DONE
Scott Schmieder, road and bridge foreman, reported that Mill Creek Road, a chip and seal road was being resealed that day. Burks School Road would be patched Monday, followed by Cindy Lane and Cedar Trail.
Schmieder and Arnold also discussed the pile of rock behinds the waterpark with the commissioners. The plan had been for road crews to haul it off for possible use. Arnold suggested that it stay where it is and a crusher be brought in to crush the rock for a gravel parking lot.
Schmieder also noted that the rented tractor for pulling the bat-winged mower is due to be returned by Dec. 1. He said it only has 150 hours of use left, by the contract.