JEFFERSON — Following a year of having employees working from home, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors earlier this month unanimously approved an ordinance outlining a future policy and procedures for telecommuting and remote work.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, county employees were asked to work from home to assist in stopping the spread of the virus to other co-workers and the public. Because the transition happened quickly, temporary rules were established for employees working off-site.
Since the spread of COVID-19 has decreased in the county, County Administrator Ben Wehmeier recommended employees return to work on on-site on a full-time basis. But for those who do not want to return to the office, employees have to fill out a form and proceed through an approval process to be granted the ability to work remotely.
After a year of working remotely, county offices determined that remote work may actually be beneficial to the employee and the county, according to the executive summary attached to the ordinance. It can be beneficial for employees working on a dedicated project which does not require the to be on site, or positions where productivity can be accurately monitored, or instances when the physical space at the county facility is limited.
The new ordinance to amend the county’s personnel ordinance on remote working was recommended by the administrator and the human resources director. “We are updating the process of remote work,” Wehmeier said. “Employees need to understand the commitment and procedures for working remotely.”
The new policies and procedures formalizes the rules from the emergency policies, Wehmeier said. There was little discussion on the county board floor July 13 as the policies had been reviewed in committee for several months with feedback from employees.
“We had discussed a flexible work environment and had done work prior to the pandemic,” Wehmeier said. The pandemic pushed the need for the policy changes. “We looked at how to maintain and monitor those schedules in certain departments, the ability of employees to remote in and how work was going to be monitored.”
Telecommuting will allow employees to work at home, on the road or in a satellite location for all or part of a workweek. Jefferson County has more than 600 employees.
The ability to telecommute or do remote work will be based upon the individual employee as well as the employee’s position and will be determined by the employee’s supervisor.
According to the policy, telecommuting is considered a privilege and not an entitlement.
Either an employee or a supervisor can suggest telecommuting as a possible work arrangement. All arrangements must be approved by the manager/supervisor and department head, and a remote/telecommuting agreement is completed. Long-term agreements need the approval of the human services director.
The approval will be based on employee suitability, job responsibilities, equipment needs (such as workspace design) and scheduling issues, home environment and staffing needs. The arrangements will be made on a case-by-case basis and will need to be renewed annually. The agreement can be revoked at any time by a department head.
Under expectations, employees are to accurately record all hours worked, to work during their normal work schedule, to maintain the same level of productivity and presence when physically on-site, dress appropriately, maintain a safe work environment, sue county issued equipment, provide security for county information and not use telecommuting as a replacement for childcare.
Many of the positions that could be done remotely include those in human services that already provide services outside the office with site visits. “We will look at the functionality of the position and how much interaction the employee has with the public. Our ultimate goal is to serve the public,” Wehmeier said.
“Folks like the highway department are not able to do work in the remote environment,” the county administrator added.
The new ordinance on telecommuting and remote work took effect immediately upon passage.
JEFFERSON — With COVID-19 case numbers up in all 50 states, the pandemic threatens to linger for many more months, along the way taking lives and impacting people’s long-term health, especially among the most vulnerable populations.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has called the current situation “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” with vaccinated folks able to go about their business as usual but with those who haven’t yet received the vaccine as vulnerable as ever.
To maximize the protection in the local population and minimize future COVID-19 losses, local health officials are now taking vaccinations on the road, reaching out to the most vulnerable populations where they are instead of waiting for people to come into a mass clinic.
“Since the beginning of our vaccine efforts, we’ve been trying to incorporate equity into everything we do,” said Samroz Jakvani, the epidemiologist who has been working with Jefferson County since early in the pandemic.
“We have worked with community organizations and reached out to businesses,” he said. “Yet despite all our efforts, we were still noticing a pretty big gap when it came to race and ethnicity in terms of who was coming to our clinics.”
To address this deficit, the health department has pivoted from large central vaccine clinics to making the vaccine available where people already are.
For area residents who regularly see a doctor, this could be at a local doctor’s office or a pharmacy. Vaccines have also been made available at big local events, like the Father’s Day Drive In/Fly In at the Palmyra Airport, or the Jefferson County Fair.
However, there are pockets of the population for whom the vaccine just isn’t very accessible. One of these groups is migrant workers. These folks may not be as digitally connected as other segments of the population. They may work in remote areas, and they may lack good transportation options which would allow them to get to more centrally located vaccine clinics.
Thus, a couple of weeks ago, the Jefferson County Health Department embarked on an initiative to reach out to the businesses, particularly the big farms, which employ a lot of migrant workers.
The first mobile clinic of this type took place earlier this month at Kutz Dairy Farm in Jefferson, where the department was able to vaccinate 11 people who had not previously had the opportunity to receive this protection.
The department considers this a success, and is looking to do the same at farms and businesses across the county, Jakvani said.
“We have reached out to every single farm in Jefferson County and to every business where migrant workers comprise a significant amount of the workforce,” Jakvani said.
In addition, the county hopes to begin a door-to-door vaccine information campaign in the near future, the epidemiologist said.
“We’re looking to start that in the cities with the lowest prevalence of people who have received the vaccine,” he said.
In these door-to-door stops, county representatives would provide factual, non-biased, scientifically based information on the vaccines that are available and how they work.
If interested, residents would be offered the opportunity to receive a vaccine on the spot.
“Rather than let doses go to waste, that seems to be the way to do it looking into the future,” Jakvani said.
The epidemiologist said that when the vaccines first became available, the county saw a rush of people eager to get the shot. Now, adults and teens who were eager to receive the vaccine have gotten it, but there is still a significant segment of the vaccine-eligible population which is reluctant to get the shot, for whatever reason.
“In April, we were vaccinating 2,000 people across the county every week,” Jakvani said. “Now it’s more like 200 to 400 people a week. If we can even raise that by 100, that will be a success.”
The more people get the vaccine, he said, the less COVID-19 has a chance to spread through the population, and the less chance it has to mutate into variants which could potentially spread more easily and have more serious effects.
As of last week, Jakvani said that 45.8% of adult county residents were fully vaccinated, while 55 percent had received at least one dose.
Yet, according to a report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, current data suggests that around 70% of the population would need to be immune to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19.
“We’d like to make sure this county is as protected as possible from the surging delta variant and any future COVID-19 variant that might emerge,” Jakvani said.
“We want to empower county residents to make the best decision for themselves based on the most reliable information from the CDC, the health department and current research,” he said.
With questions, people are encouraged to call the Jefferson County Health Department at 920-674-7275. People may also connect to a vaccine provider directly by dialing 211.
And the beat goes on…Just ask Gerri Bauer.
Not much has changed, Bauer said, since they brought their concerns to the Watertown Common Council last month.
Bauer, who resides at The Globe, said she can hear music coming from the The Bar on a weekly basis.
Bauer said she and other residents at The Globe were to meet Jorge Monterrey, who with Misti Hawn also own Kiss My Axe inside The Market, 210 S. Water St.
Monterrey helped to organize and hold BorderWars, an amateur boxing event outside of The Bar June 12. The event had Globe residents speaking out against the noise at the common council meeting June 15.
Then, Monterrey met with the citizens who spoke out against The Bar and its noise. He said he handed out his number to each of them so they could come up with a time to meet and discuss the issue.
It’s been hard to find common ground since then.
Bauer wrote in a July 16 email to the Daily Times she was planning a meeting at the Watertown Senior Center Monday night to allow her neighbors to voice their concerns to Monterrey because the sound continues to be “excessive both inside and outside of The Bar.”
Bauer also wrote in the same email that the two parties decided to meet at the senior center, and also decided to split the cost for the rental. She said Monterrey didn’t pay his portion, which would’ve been $30.
Monterrey said he didn’t pay his portion because the date didn’t work for him and he didn’t agree to it. He also asked why he should pay for a place to meet when he owns space to hold gatherings.
“We have asked The Bar Lounge to please just ‘turn it down’ and after several weeks it seems the answer is ‘no,’” Bauer said.
She said Monday’s meeting was canceled. She is not scheduling anything in the future.
Monterrey said, that although he has not met with The Globe residents, he wants the meeting to be a productive one and not one where both parties are pointing fingers at one another.
“I don’t want to feel like I am getting ambushed,” he said. “I would prefer a nice and calm and productive meeting between adults.”
As of Monday, Monterrey did not have a meeting scheduled for the two groups to meet.
Watertown Mayor Emily McFarland said the zoning administrator has been working on this issue, but there is a procedure that lays out a period of time for the property owner to come into compliance.
“That period of time has not yet expired,” McFarland said.
She also said the police department has been called out on this matter, too.
Watertown Police Chief Robert Kaminski said his department or the zoning administrator’s department have responded to approximately 22 noise complaints involving The Bar since August 2020.
“The police department has issued one citation to date, and is working closely with the zoning administrator to come up with a solution to this issue,” Kaminski said.
As of press time Monday, the zoning administrator had not contacted the Watertown Daily Times.