County Commission

The St. Francois County Commission meets in regular session Tuesday morning to discuss concerns about a possible mask mandate and Terre Du Lac issues.

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Terre Du Lac Police Department and COVID issues were addressed during the St. Francois County Commission meeting Tuesday morning at the courthouse annex.

Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher noted that the commission wants to further amend the agreement with Terre Du Lac before signing the final draft.

“There’s a paragraph in there where we would estimate costs per year and then go over that on an equalized monthly basis and they would pay us for the sheriff’s department for in-house police work,” he said. “That is estimate based on estimate based on annual adjustment of an estimate.

“I want to do this on a true cost monthly basis. It’s not fair to charge them an estimated cost and us go and estimate a cost, it’s not going to be accurate. We have an excellent accounting system. We know to the penny what last month’s expense was on every item. We can set this up so that at the first week of the month, we will send them a bill for what we literally spent on their system. That cuts out that annual adjustment; that cuts out that stuff that is just a guess.”

County Clerk Kevin Engler asked, “The personnel on the sheriff’s department, do we have a start time? We’ve got their paperwork all done.”

Gallaher answered, “We can’t start until we get an agreement. They thought we would hire them at the existing pay. But if they become county employees they will have to go on our program.”

Sheriff Dan Bullock noted that they already are working on the applications for the positions.

“The uniforms, I think they have met with HR already. I’ve got everything moving in that direction,” he said.

Gallaher added, “We’ve got to realize that is not a level payment. There will be some months where the insurance for the year might hit. There will be some months they’ll have three pay periods instead of two. They’ve got to understand that the graph will be up and down on the monthly payment.”

During the public comments section of the meeting, Tara Wadlow and Jack Poston of the St. Francois County Board of Health appeared before the commission.

Poston addressed the commission about the COVID virus and explained about the upcoming board meeting that afternoon.

“First of all, I would like to begin by simply inviting all commissioners and everybody to come to the meeting we’re going to have this afternoon at the Centene Center,” he said. “The health board asked citizens to send us their comments on the proposed face mask mandate.

"The board received emailed public comments that were sent to us. We tried to address the concerns expressed, for example, anxieties about wearing masks; Difficulty breathing with a mask on; Medical conditions that might prevent wearing a mask, and very young children having to wear a mask. We listened, we addressed those concerns and you can go online and look at the draft. They should be proud and pleased that we listened to them.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is real. St. Francois County, as well as the whole state of Missouri, is recognized as a hotbed. Something has to be done. It is the responsibility of the St. Francois County Board of Health to protect the health and well-being of our citizens. This afternoon there will be an open hearing. I do not know what the board vote will be. But, regardless, we are taking the COVID-19 situation quite seriously. Thank you for your time, thank you for listening.”

After the statement, there was discussion about the upcoming meeting and the potential mask mandate with most of the comments centering on practical enforcement of a mask mandate.

Gallaher expressed that the enforcement would be difficult.

“We are over the county. Cities, their rules supersede ours ... You are not going to come to my farm and violate a mask rule, but you will if you go to a store in town. Countywide, if we impose a mandatory rule, I don’t know if our guys have jurisdiction to police that. I haven’t been able to talk to [St. Francois County Prosecutor] Melissa Gilliam, if she gets a whole bunch of citations, can you handle that?”

Gilliam said no as she had 3,000 cases a year already.

Gallaher continued, “She’s backed up with felonies. If you try to put whatever number of citations on that, then they are dismissed almost routinely, then that’s a slap in the face that want the mandatory rule.

“…I don’t know how we can enforce it as a countywide system. The cities can do what they wish, they have that authority.”

Bullock weighed in, “I’ve talked with [Gilliam], and the sheriff’s department is not going to have time to be the Corona Police in the county. We’ve talked today about Terre Du Lac, since that has come up, we have taken on the city of Leadington, and took up the city of Iron Mountain Lake, we’re running out of time and not enough people; the prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office.”

Gallaher noted that he gets emails and phone calls with an estimate of 80% against the mandatory rule.

“I’ve gotten very nice calls from people that say, ‘I will not wear a mask under any rule, no matter what.’ They’re nice about it, but that’s their take.”

County Auditor Louie Seiberlich asked, “What is the position of the county commission in support or not of whatever the county health department does?”

Gallaher answered, “I personally am against the mandatory rule. I choose to wear one, but that’s my choice, my right and my freedom. That doesn’t address the disease, I understand that. I’ve gotten lots of reports that people wear their masks wrong anyway. I don’t know. We’ve got a serious problem with a serious disease and this seems like a superficial, partial answer.

“I do know that the last time they had a hearing, it was very much against the mandatory rule.”

Wadlow added, “Yes, I went through all of the emails. The numbers before whenever we asked you to submit their public comment by the Tuesday by the deadline, was in support of masking.”

An audience member asked Wadlow what the statistics were on the benefits of wearing masks.

“If I’m wearing my mask, I protect you by 30%,” she said. “If you wear your mask, it protects me by 30%. That’s 60%. That’s better than nothing at all. I’m a nurse practitioner at the clinic, and I see a lot of COVID patients throughout the day, I could just be talking and spit, and then we’re sitting close, he’s not wearing his mask, if I wasn’t wearing a mask, I could infect him and not even know it.”

The audience member noted the change in policy over time from the health organizations.

Wadlow agreed, “The thing with medicine and science, those things change all the time. A lot of people were saying how the World Health Organization and the CDC have change their stances a lot. And they have. I’ve been looking at medical organizations like the Infectious Disease Society, the American Heart Association, they compile a bunch of research and articles, and so they come up with their stances.”

Gilliam addressed Wadlow about receiving too many criminal violations. “When I read the order, the only thing that was in there was that you could be prosecuted for a Class A misdemeanor. Are they willing to change the repercussions about wearing a mask on their face?”

Wadlow said that the first step is educating the person, then asking to utilize other services such as curbside pickup or online, and if they refuse, “I think that’s whenever that if a citizen is being not cooperative, that’s whenever other things that….”

Gilliam continued, “Dan and I talked earlier, we just anticipate us and other departments getting a lot of phone calls about individuals not wearing masks.”

Wadlow answered, “I totally agree. That’s where we were wanting everybody’s community support, I just don’t know whether we are going to get that.”

Gallaher noted the health department discussed enforcing this, however they were overloaded as is with the situation.

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com

This article originally ran on dailyjournalonline.com.

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