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Local government to continue limited access in May

Robert Houk • Apr 26, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said last week he is in no rush to re-open county offices to the public.

The mayor said his first priority in the coming weeks will be to help the local economy get back on its feet following the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We will focus on getting restaurants and retails businesses back to work, and then come back to re-opening the courthouse,” Grandy said.

City Manager Pete Peterson said Johnson City will maintain its current restrictions on government functions until the first of June. Peterson said  federal and state guidelines are still restricting crowds of more than 10 people. As a result, city parks, playgrounds and other recreational facilities will remain shuttered in May.

He said city businesses is still being conducted, and many city employees have been able to work from home.

“Things are operating fairly smoothly,” Peterson said.

Likewise, Grandy  said essential courthouse operations have been maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“County government has functioned continually without excess traffic in the courthouse,” Grandy said. “Everyone, from car dealers to average citizens, have stepped up and gone online as much as possible to conduct their business.”

Closed Offices

The  Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough has been closed to the public since March 23. Drop boxes were placed on the lower level of the courthouse at the handicapped entrance for residents to leave documents and payments.

The trustee and county clerk offices at 378 Marketplace Blvd., Johnson City, have also been closed to the public since April 6.

Grandy sent a memorandum to county employees on Friday thanking them for their work while government operations have been modified for COVID-19. He said the county has been “extremely fortunate” to not have had a positive case of COVID-19 among its nearly 500 courthouse employees.

The mayor has not established a date for resuming normal business at country offices, noting the current process is “working well, and we’ve been able to keep our people healthy and safe.”

Peterson said the city’s directive for its employees and citizens to work for home has helped to control the spread of COVID-19 cases. As a result, he said the city government has had just one of its 1,000 municipal employees to test positive for the virus.

Limited Meetings

Washington County has also issued a public notice that it will continue to hold meetings of the County Commission and other government committees by electronic means in May. These electronic meetings, in accordance with an executive order issued by Gov. Bill Lee, will not be open to the public, but residents can view them online. 

Grandy said last week he has formed a task force to help guide him in making decisions on when to re-open county offices, and formulating safety guidelines to help businesses get back to work. He said courthouse offices will continue to follow social distancing restrictions when they do resume normal operations.

“I don’t think we’ll stop what we’ve learned for dealing with COVID-19,” he said.

Peterson said Friday said the city will be monitoring what happens to the area’s number of COVID-19 cases when businesses begin re-opening this week. He said the city will also be following the advice of public health leaders, as well as federal and state officials in resuming government business.

“When we have meet that criteria, we will certainly open it up as quickly as we can,” Peterson said.

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