The Houston County Commissioners met in regular session on Tuesday, December 28, 2021, from 9 a.m. to 10:16 a.m. Commissioners in attendance included Chairman Bob Burns, Dewey Severson, Eric Johnson, Teresa Walter, and Greg Myhre via Zoom.
Chairman Burns called the meeting to order at 9 a.m. and led the commissioners and audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. The meeting agenda and the minutes from the December 21 was approved. There were no public comments, appointments, or consent agenda leaving time for a passionate discussion on COVID vaccine requirements.
Commissioner Walter updated reason for changing the 2022 annual salary of the Auditor-Treasurer to $89,960. Request unanimously approved.
After a brief discussion, the commissioners voted four to one to keep the 2022 annual salary for commissioners and per diem the same as 2021. Commissioner Myhre felt that commissioners should receive a cost-of-living wage and voted against keeping the commissioners salary the same as it was in 2021. The Federal Meals and Incidentals (M&IE) will increase from $.55 to $.59 in 2022.
County Finance Director, Carol Lapham explained that at the end of every year the County must identify the major revenue funds of Houston County for the following year for auditing purposes. Lapham proposed designating Roads and Bridges, Public Health and Human Services, Debt Service, and Capital Projects as the major funds of Houston County. The proposal was approved.
The commissioners approved the 2021 budget amendments to accurately reflect various revenues and expenditures and fund balance usage of the Recorder’s Technology fund, and the Compliance fund as proposed by Lapham.
Passionate discussion regarding Minnesota OSHA ruling regarding COVID vaccination and testing comprised the majority of the second half of the meeting. Public Health and Human Services Director, John Pugleasa, and Personnel Director, Tess Kruger appeared before the board to explain the MN OSHA ruling regarding COVID employees. Pugleasa and Kruger asked the board their opinion on the two options. It was noted that this is not an action item as it was not on this meeting’s agenda.
According to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website, dli.mn.gov, explains, “On Nov. 5, 2021, federal OSHA issued the COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 or more employees) from the risk of contracting COVID-19 by strongly encouraging vaccination. Covered employers must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with an exception for employers that instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work in lieu of vaccination.”
Commissioners had the opportunity to express their opinion and asked questions. Both Pugleasa and Kruger expressed that they do not have all the answers and will need to come back to commissioners with the answers and a proposed policy. OSHA stated they “will not issue citations for noncompliance before January 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before February 9, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standards.” Commissioner Walter reiterated throughout the conversation, if the county is “exercising good faith efforts,” the county would be incompliance and not receive citations.
Commissioner Myhre spoke up, “Is every county going to be doing the same thing? If we don’t all do it, the whole state, what good is it? If Houston County locks you down, Fillmore County is wide open, Allamakee is wide open, Winona is wide open, La Crosse is wide open, we not going to get a handle on it if we are not all doing the same thing. We gotta be on the same program.” Kruger replied, “This is a nationwide mandate. The state of Minnesota, Minnesota OSHA rulemaking as to follow the Federal OSHA. The states are allowed to modify OSHA standards by adding more safety, but they are not allowed to modify OSHA standards by taking away from the standards.” Kruger believes that this is an attempt to address the problem that Commissioner Myhre brought up.
Pugleasa and Kruger asked the board for direction. Commissioners were in favor of option two, employees either get vaccinated or be tested weekly and wear a mask at work. Pugleasa and Kruger were asked to come back with a policy at next week’s meeting on how option two would be implemented and handled.
The next meeting of the Houston County Commission is Tuesday, January 4, at 9 a.m. in the County Commission Board Room 222 located on the second floor in the Historic County Courthouse, Caledonia, or via the county conference call line (312) 626-6700. Enter meeting ID: 994-7297-7175 and password 368422. The public is invited to attend.