TYNDALL — After being closed more than a month, the Bon Homme County Courthouse will open Monday (June 1) to the public.
The courthouse had been closed to the public since mid-April because of COVID-19 concerns. At its May 19 meeting, the commission voted to open the courthouse.
“Some counties had opened their courthouse, and others hadn’t done so yet,” Auditor Tamara Brunken told the Press & Dakotan on Friday.
“But a lot of towns and counties have started opening up. And the governor’s executive order ends May 31, which was a big part of the commissioners’ decision.”
However, the Bon Homme County vote wasn’t unanimous.
After discussion, Commissioners John Hauck, Russ Jelsma, Duane Bachmann and Bruce Voigt voted to repeal the county’s emergency ordinance and open the courthouse June 1. The fifth commissioner, Mary Jo Bauder, voted against the repeal.
While the building has been closed to the public for more than a month, county services have remained in operation during the lockdown, Brunken said.
“The courthouse doors were locked, but all the office employees were working,” she said. “We instructed people to make an appointment if they needed to see us. Then we would meet with them outdoors.”
At one time, county officials had discussed changing to four 10-hour days, if feasible, during the courthouse closure. However, the county retained the usual hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and will continue operating during those hours.
Sheriff Mark Maggs said his office has continued providing law enforcement and meeting safety needs during the pandemic. Bon Homme County operates both a dispatch center and a jail.
“My office has been back to normal operations for two weeks or so with the exception of our 24/7 Sobriety program, which we are still operating in a modified manner,” the sheriff said.
The Unified Judicial System (UJS) and its court officials have continued operating during the pandemic while also stressing health and safety, according to First Circuit Court administrator Kim Allison. The First Circuit includes 14 counties and covers much of southeastern and south-central South Dakota, including Bon Homme County.
“We are working at updating our First Circuit administrative orders next week after our judges’ meeting. We will, of necessity, be easing back in to larger in-person court sessions as allowed by UJS and Circuit order, and in consideration of CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines,” she said.
“We will continue to take advantage of the technology to conduct hearings remotely when possible. Jury trials will be our biggest challenge to social distancing, and how that can be handled is still under consideration and discussion throughout the state.”
With Monday’s courthouse re-opening, Bon Homme County isn’t requiring all employees to wear masks, Brunken said. Those decisions are being made at the department level.
The public isn’t required to wear masks in the courthouse, but they’re welcome to do so as a precaution, the auditor added.
With the repeal of the emergency ordinance, the commissioners will return to their regular meeting location in the courthouse.
“We have been holding our commission meetings at the 4-H center to give us more room for social distancing,” Brunken said. “Starting with this next meeting, we’re moving back to the commissioners’ room. If we get enough people (attending the meeting), we can move it to the courtroom.”
In a change of date, the commissioners will hold their next meeting at 9 a.m. June 4. They normally meet the first and third Tuesdays of the month, but the next meeting date would fall on the South Dakota primary election.
As of Friday afternoon, Brunken had sent out 760 absentee ballots for the primary election and had received back 585. In a trend seen across South Dakota, more voters are casting early ballots because of convenience but also because of COVID-19 concerns.
The polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Absentee ballots must be returned by the close of polls Tuesday.
Bon Homme County will retain its usual five polling places — one each in Avon, Springfield, Tyndall, Tabor and Scotland — for the upcoming election, Brunken said.
However, Brunken has incorporated safety precautions to protect both precinct workers and the general public.
Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.