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Woodruff approves motion to work outside of employee handbook

April 17, 2020 by Kayla Houp

The Woodruff Town Board approved a motion Thursday, March 19, authorizing the town to work outside limitations set in its employee handbook an discussed the town’s precautionary measures amid concerns over COVID-19.

Recently, the Town of Woodruff closed both its town office and Woodruff Police Department lobby until further notice.

Town chair Mike Timmons said both he, and town clerk Julie Huotari would be available at the town offices to take phone calls and conduct the majority of town business over the phone or email.

“There is nothing earth-shattering that they can’t leave a message for, for normal town business,” Timmons said. 

Timmons added that in speaking with Woodruff Police Department administrative secretary Lori Janusz and police chief Corey Backhaus, the majority of the department’s office business could be conducted over the phone.

“The other thing I would like today, with permission ... to allow the three department heads, Julie and myself, and, if it comes down to it, to sign a declaration of emergency,” Timmons said.

According to Timmons, the Town of Woodruff wasn’t at the state of declaring a state of emergency as of its meeting Thursday.

“So, right now, we’re just going to have Julie and Mike in the office, the doors locked,” town supervisor Corky Sheppard said. “If somebody pulls in, they can call in?”

“By law, I do have to reopen next week for the elections, so in-person voting is scheduled to start on Monday,” Huotari said. “... I just don’t want people milling in here, in and out, for things that can wait, for things that aren’t important. If it’s voting related, and they want to come in person and register to vote, they should be able to come in and register to vote.”

While the town offices will be open for in-person voting, Huotari said a sign would be posted asking for visits to the office to be limited to voting purposes only.

“If anyone has anything else that’s really important, they can call me or email me,” Huotari said. “And I can come out to the curbside. I can do voting at curbside, I can do dog licenses at curbside, I could do a lot of things by email. I’m willing to accommodate as much as I can.”

Timmons advised town employees, in the event they test positive for COVID-19, to inform the town office “immediately.”

“Even if it’s midnight at night and they find out they have it, they should leave a message on the town answering machine so that it’s documented as fast as we can,” Timmons said.

In addition to closing the town office and police department for in-person business, aside from voting, for precautionary measures during the COVID-19 crisis, Timmons said the town office was also implementing social distancing for employees.

“Hopefully this is all short term, but I would like a motion to approve that we work with the department heads,” Timmons said.

Sheppard made a motion to allow the town to work outside the bounds of the employee handbook and to authorize the police, road, and fire department heads to “take care of anything that comes up” during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We just can’t be tied right now to the employee handbook, we gotta take care of people,” Sheppard said.

“We’ll re-evaluate as this goes,” Timmons said.

The board also discussed how to proceed with the town’s annual meeting in April.

“Worst case scenario, we’re going to have to call it to order and adjourn it instantly, to such and such a date where we can have a safe and fair amount of people in the audience,” Timmons said. “If it’s getting close and it’s still not safe to have that large group, a week ahead of time, we’ll probably have to pull the plug on it.”

In an interview with The Lakeland Times on March 20, Timmons explained the authorization was limited to day-to-day obligations decisions related to the COVID-19 crisis and working outside the employee handbook included following federal and state guidelines or laws during the public health crisis.

“Our restrictions aren’t set up for any pandemic-type situation where it’s above and beyond our control,” Timmons said. “There’s so many things that have been thrown at us.”

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]

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