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Commissioners discuss new courthouse restrictions

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
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Austin Attorney Chuck Kimbrough (far right) consults with Zach Holbrooks , Executive Director of the South Plains Public Health District, concerning protocols designed to address public access to Gaines County Courthouse offices. (Sentinel Photo/Sam Holbrooks)

Having learned of Gaines County's first confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus, the Gaines County Commissioners Court met at the Gaines County Courthouse Monday to discuss a range of issues related to the local response to the emergency.

Prior to the meeting, attendees received a copy of Monday's emergency declaration from the county that includes a number of new restrictions, expanding on emergency guidelines recently released by the state.

With Commissioner Craig Belt presiding in place of the absent Judge Tom Keyes, among the issues discussed were the likely temporary closures of both the Gaines County Library and Museum Complex, and restricted access to other County facilities.

While the Courthouse remained open on Monday, visitors found public access to most offices restricted, but with a note that included a phone number they could call for assistance. Some access may be restricted to appointment-only, with CDC "social distancing" guidelines in place.

Courthouse Department heads continue to have the final word on access, taking into consideration the volume and type of traffic, and the nature of the business to be conducted.

After receiving a lengthy consultation from the County's Austin Attorney Chuck Kimbrough in Executive session, along with County Attorney Joe Nagy, D.A. Phillip Mack Furlow, and others, Kimbrough advised that, while the county's emergency guidelines may remain in place as of Monday, the Court should not take any vote on the matter until a newly scheduled meeting on Friday, March 27th.

At that time, the meeting may be recorded and transmitted for public viewing, made possible by the recent relaxation of some public meetings rules by the state. Prior to that time, Kimbrough asked South Plains Public Health District Director Zach Holbrooks to establish a set of protocols that are unique to county functions, while optimizing the safety of both the public and county employees.

Those protocols would be subject to review by Commissioners prior to taking the vote that was tabled on Monday.

Kimbrough had dual reasons for travelling to Gaines County. The Court received a proposal from Kimbrough on behalf of his Austin firm of Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado, and Acosta, LLC for legal work related to the County's grant application with the 2020 state of Texas Transportation Infrastructure Fund program.

The program is one that is directed to counties in the state that receive road and other infrastructure damage as a result of heavy traffic related to the oil and gas industry. The program holds $250 million in funding for eligible counties. Kimbrough told the court

Kimbrough told the court that his firm's fees would be capped at $27,000, but that, given past experience with Gaines County, they would likely fall far short of that figure.

In an otherwise limited agenda, Commissioners voted to accept a grant from the Tocker Foundation for furniture to be installed in the new library in Seagraves, and approved bid dates for hotmix for the Gaines County Airport taxiway and concrete work on cart paths at the County Golf Course.

The Court also approved repair work on hail damage to the fence at the Memorial Cemetery, and approved a contract that allows the County to trade mixed aggregate for an equal amount of 3/4-inch aggregate that can be used for chip sealing.

DECLARATION OF LOCAL STATE OF DISASTER DUE TO PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY

WHEREAS, a novel coronavirus, now designated SARS-CoV2 which caused the disease COVID-19, has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization; and

WHEREAS, the symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe illness and cause complication including death; and

WHEREAS, COVID-19 virus mainly spreads between people who are in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes; and WHEREAS, on March 13, 2020, the Governor of the State of Texas issued a proclamation certifying the COVID-19 poses an imminent threat of disaster in the state and declaring a state of disaster for all counties in Texas; and GAINES COUNTY, Texas is taking extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of this potentially devastating disease in our community; and

WHEREAS, said state of disaster requires that certain emergency protective measures be taken pursuant to the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 relating to Emergency Management and Public Health, pursuant to Chapter 418 of the Texas Government Code.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED BY THE COMMISSIONERS COURT OF GAINES COUNTY, TEXAS;

SECTION 1. That a local state of disaster for public health emergency is hereby declared for GAINES COUNTY, Texas, pursuant to Section 418.108(a) of the Texas Government Code.

SECTION 2. That pursuant to Section 418.108(c) of the Texas Government Code this declaration of a local state of disaster for public health emergency shall be given prompt and general publicity and shall be filed promptly with the County Clerk.

SECTION 3. That pursuant to Section 418.108(d) of the Texas Government Code, this declaration of a local state of disaster activates the GAINES COUNTY, Texas emergency management plan and authorizes the furnishing of aid and assistance under the declaration.

SECTION 4. That this declaration authorizes the County to take any actions necessary to promote health and suppress the virus, including the quarantine of persons and occupied structures, examining and regulating hospitals, regulating ingress and egress from the County, regulating ingress and egress to occupied structures, establishment of quarantine stations, emergency hospitals, and other hospitals, and ensuring compliance for those who do not comply with the County’s rules and directives.

SECTION 5. That this declaration hereby limits the size of gatherings to not more than 250 people and mandates the cancellation of all such gatherings of more than 250 people until further notice. A “gathering” generally refers to a scheduled event or common endeavor where 250 persons are present in a confined space, room or area.

SECTION 6. In accordance with Texas Government Code 418.173 who knowingly or intentionally violates this declaration commits an offense, punishable by a fine up to $1,000.00 or confinement in jail for a term that does not exceed 180 days.

SECTION 7. That this declaration hereby authorizes the use of all lawfully available enforcement tools.

SECTION 8. That declaration shall take effect immediately from and after its issuance and, upon by the Commissioners Court, shall continue in effect until terminated by the County Judge. Pursuant to this declaration, additional directive may be issued by the County Judge at any time as deemed necessary.

DECLARED this _______________ day of March, 2020.