Court lifts mask mandate in county buildings

Published 3:14 pm Thursday, October 28, 2021

Makes EDA magistrate appointment, approves raise for jail employees

The Boyle County Fiscal Court on Tuesday morning lifted the mask mandate for county-owned buildings, which went into effect Aug. 24 in response to rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. However, masks are still encouraged.

Judge Executive Howard Hunt introduced the idea of revisiting the mask mandate, as he acknowledged “a lot of things have changed” with the COVID-19 situation since the passage of the mask mandate. He showed a “masks appreciated” sign as an example of what could be displayed at buildings such as the courthouse.

Magistrate Jamey Gay said he agreed that the county is in a better position than it was when the mandate went into effect, but he said he would be comfortable if masks were recommended or suggested.

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“I want to go back to the fact that you’re actually wearing your mask to protect others as much as you’re wearing it to protect yourself,” Gay said.

Hunt said bailiffs at the courthouse are doing their jobs when they’ve been requiring masks for people as they enter the courthouse — however, visitors have been asking why they are mandated at the courthouse, when they aren’t elsewhere.

Magistrate Jason Cullen said the reason he proposed the mandate was for the sake of the courthouse staff, since there are a lot of people going in and out of the building on a daily basis.

“I don’t want to see anyone get sick or worse because they’re exposed to so much,” he said.

He added that if the county were to lift the mask mandate, he believes fiscal court meetings should be made open to the public again, not just livestreamed on YouTube.

Magistrate John Caywood proposed that wording be added to the mask recommendation so wearing a mask for the protection of others be emphasized.

County Administrator Julie Wager suggested the wording be “for the health and protection of others, masks appreciated.”

A motion to approve that wording passed unanimously.

As for opening fiscal court meetings to the public, Magistrate Phil Sammons said he wasn’t sure that was a good idea, since it would bring a lot of potential exposure to the small courtroom. Gay said he would feel better if the meetings were held in a larger space and suggested perhaps the fiscal court could watch the COVID-19 trend for the next two weeks and come back on the issue.

Cullen said, “Why is our safety so much more important than the rest of the building? I don’t understand that.”

He pointed out that several county employees have offices much smaller than the courtroom.

“I’m baffled by this, because why are we better than anyone else in this courthouse?” he said.

Hunt said he was comfortable letting the public in personally, but the arrangement would need to be tightened up in the room to allow for seating. He said he agreed with Cullen that the fiscal court would be putting themselves “in a different category” if they didn’t allow the public to physically attend meetings.

Ultimately, the fiscal court decided they could look into potential alternate locations for meetings to allow for more space for the public to attend.

In other business:

• Caywood was Hunt’s recommendation for the Economic Development Authority magistrate appointment. Sammons made the motion to approve the recommendation, which was seconded by Cullen and passed unanimously.

Magistrate Tom Ellis said this is one of the most important motions the fiscal court will vote on this year. Sammons said he believes Caywood has a lot of experience in the economic development “arena.”

Hunt said he looks forward to Caywood working with David Williams, the county’s recently-appointed “at-large” member.

Caywood said he was honored by the court’s confidence. He said the EDA will be cutting a “new trail” and there will be times the fiscal court will disagree with the EDA’s decisions, but he thinks the EDA will present a new direction for economic development in Boyle County.

• The fiscal court unanimously approved a $1.50 per hour raise for employees of the Boyle County Detention Center “across the board,” with the exception of the constitutionally-elected officer. Gay brought the proposal forward, saying because the jail currently has job vacancies, the county can move forward with the raises without impact to the money budgeted for the year.

The raise brings the starting salary for jail employees up to $14 per hour from $12.50 per hour, “which is still not great, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Gay said.

Jailer Brian Wofford said where the starting salary “needs to be” is $15 per hour.

“I think if we get our starting salary up to $15, I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to get some younger people — and we’ve seen this happen — that want to go into law enforcement,” he said. “They want to be a police officer, but they need experience.”

Boyle County is splitting the cost of the raise with Mercer County by approximately 71 to 29 percent, respectively.

The pay raise will go into effect starting on Nov. 5.

• The fiscal court unanimously approved a job description and advertisement for 30 days, possibly extended, for a new Emergency Management Agency director.

Hunt said, “As we all know, Mike Wilder’s been doing a great job for several years, and he has informed me of his intent to retire the last day of this calendar year,” so the county needs to search for a new person to hold the position.