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Public regains access to Carter County Courthouse, but only through one door

John Thompson • Updated May 19, 2020 at 9:02 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Courthouse is open for business after being closed to the public for two months to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett ordered the return to normal operations on Monday. The return went smoothly for just about all the offices, except for heavy traffic in the office of Carter County Court Clerk Mary Gouge.

“They had saved up about two months of business and a lot of people brought it all in on Monday,” Gouge said. That kept the office busy throughout the first day with such tasks as issuing license plate renewals and vehicle titles.

Gouge said her office is back on a normal schedule of Monday through Saturday. The office won’t be open this Saturday or Monday because it is Memorial Day weekend.

Things went smoother in other offices. Carter County Trustee Randal Lewis said the courthouse had not been fully closed during the past two months. Employees continued to do office business and citizens were able to come into offices to conduct business after being checked by deputies from the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, Lewis said.

Barnett closed public access to the courthouse on March 24, limiting business to emergencies and by mail or electronic means. Citizens were encouraged to correspond with the county offices by means of mail, online or by telephone whenever possible.

As part of the shutdown, entrance to the courthouse has been restricted to a single location, the one on the northwest corner on the Main Street side of the building, closest to Mary Gouge’s office. That entrance is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Several county committees had been planning to restrict entrance to the courthouse from other doors even before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Although the courthouse was opened to the public on Monday, the May meeting of the Carter County Commission had already been announced as a remote electronic meeting. However, some commissioners did appear at the Main Courtroom and attended the meeting from there.

A public meeting on homelessness will also be held by electronic means on Thursday, beginning at 5 p.m. on Zoom.