Commission Also Gives Approval To Election Change

Yankton County Commissioner Gary Swensen participates in Friday’s special commission meeting. 

After hours of debate Friday, the Yankton County Commission came to a consensus on naming a County Board of Health.

The commission voted 5-0 to implement such a board in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Yankton County Board of Health will be made up of State’s Attorney Rob Klimisch, Chief Deputy Emergency Manager Erin Hacecky and a medical professional to be named later.

Following the meeting, commission chairperson Cheri Loest said the lengthy debate paid off.

“It took a long time, but when you are looking at taking drastic measures, you need to make sure you understand exactly how they are implemented and who they affect,” Loest said. “And you need to make sure you have the authority to do it. It was a very long, drawn out conversation. There was a lot of different strategies we brought up, and we compromised, essentially, in the end.”

Counting a short break, the commission met for exactly four hours Friday, with the bulk of the time spent on the County Board of Health item.

The health board was formed with some restrictions:

• Its main focus is on COVID-19.

• It will use the recently passed Sioux Falls action on businesses as a model — allowing all to stay open on the contingent that 10 or fewer people are on site.

• The board can’t issue blanket closures for a certain type of business.

• It is enacted through June 4, which is the date of the first County Commission meeting in June. The County Board of Health could be extended at this time, if the situation merits.

The final version of the County Health Board was the second proposed at Friday’s meeting. Commissioner Dan Klimisch had submitted a board proposal that would have included enforcement similar to the city’s recently proposed temporary ordinance. This initial measure failed 3-2.

At times, the conversation became heated.

“None of us wanted to be a county commissioner to close down businesses,” Commissioner Dan Klimisch said. “This is difficult. We can make excuses why we can’t do this or can’t do that. This is a choice that none of us thought we would ever have to make. I wish there was an alternative, but I don’t think there is. We look to our governor for action, but she refused to act and placed the responsibility on local governments.”

Commissioner Joseph Healy did not favor a ruling as strict as the city’s.

“I do not support closing all bars in the county because one of them is potentially being irresponsible,” Healy said. “I don’t support closing specific businesses. I would support enabling some sort of ordinance or authority to enforce the 10-person rule.”

Loest said that the heated nature during parts of Friday’s deliberations comes with the new territory that the state, along with the rest of the world, has been thrust into.

“When you’re in the uncomfortable scenario of being faced with a pandemic that could harm a lot of people, tensions get high,” she said. “We are all elected officials who, probably, have strong opinions (and) we chose to fill the chairs in front of you. We’re going to be passionate about our stances and the authority we think we have, and it’s going to get heated at times.”

As for meetings during the ongoing pandemic, the county is looking to model future meetings — including its April 7 meeting — after what the Yankton City Commission has been doing with digital meetings.

Loest said that the question came up Thursday during a call with Gov. Kristi Noem and that the administration is looking into whether it fits with open meeting laws.

“There’s a lot of folks asking, ‘How do we meet all state statutes allowing folks to participate as we want them to and make sure were not violating open meetings laws?’” she said. “We look for her to come out with some advice. It’s easier for her to figure it out versus 66 counties figuring it out.”

She added that the county is striving to make

“We are doing our best to set up so folks don’t have to leave their home,” she said. “They can listen to us and, at some point — hopefully by the next meeting — they are allowed to do some type of public comment from home. I’m not promising that because I’m not a technology person — I ‘ll leave that to the experts. But our goal is to provide that access from home.”

In other business Friday, the board:

•Voted to allow the City of Yankton to also utilize the June 2 primary election for its municipal election.

• Heard a general update on the COVID-19 situation from Emergency Management director Paul Scherschligt.

Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.

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