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Courthouse closure reviewed by county board

January 10, 2019

MADISON — Decisions on whether to close or remain open during blizzards and other severe weather can lead to confusion and second guessing for schools, government agencies and businesses.

After a couple of situations last week in which storms were forecast and visibility was poor one morning and bad on another afternoon, the Madison County board of commissioners had about a 30-minute discussion Tuesday with other elected officials and road foremen on the topic of when to close the courthouse.

No drastic changes are planned, with commissioners reminding other elected officials that they have the authority to send employees home if, in their judgment, conditions justify it.

Ron Schmidt, county board chairman, said the highest priority remains the safety of employees and the public.

While it might be convenient to have commissioners make a decision about closing the courthouse, they are not always in the best location to know what conditions are like in Madison. As a result, Schmidt said, it would be best for each elected official to decide for his or her office whether to be or remain open.

In some rare situations when a major blizzard is forecast well in advance, the commissioners may decide already the previous evening to have the courthouse be closed the following day.

Schmidt said that action will be taken in response to some elected officials who would like courthouse closure decisions to be done the night before. Schmidt said that is not always possible as the weather forecasts are not always accurate, and conditions often end up worse than predicted.

Another thing that was decided was that when the courthouse is going to be closed or opening late, decisions should be made by 6 a.m. so those traveling from farther away can be notified before having to leave home.

Commissioners said that along with forecasts, they rely on reports from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and road foremen to know what road conditions are like. But that isn’t a perfect solution, they said.

“By the time we’re learning road crews are getting pulled, it’s too late,” Schmidt said. “That’s why I’d like to (have elected officials) make their own decisions.”

Joe Smith, county attorney, said these types of things are often unpredictable. There was a time recently when he told his staff if the courthouse was open, it would be up to them to decide if they could make it.

“Then I tried it and I got stuck,” Smith said.

Part of the reason elected officials wanted clarification is because if the courthouse is closed, employees are not required to make up the time, according to the employee handbook.

If the courthouse is open and employees leave early or can’t make it to work, then it is up to each elected official in charge of the office to work out making up the lost time through vacation or working through breaks, commissioners said.

Anne Pruss, county clerk, said she would notify the media when the courthouse or specific offices are closing because her office has the media contacts.

As such, commissioners encouraged any office that might be closing early to notify the county clerk so that word can be shared quickly.

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