Steele County Board meetings will be open to the public for the first time since COVID-19 cases spiked late last year.

The County Board approved Tuesday reopening its meetings to the public beginning July 1, as well as ceasing to livestream meetings at that point.

The Board suspended in-person attendance at its meetings in December as COVID cases were peaking. Since then, only county commissioners and some county department supervisors have attended the meetings in person. While in-person attendance was suspended, residents had the option of virtually attending the meetings and having their public comment read to the board during the meeting.

Steele County hasn’t ended its emergency declaration yet as Public Health needs to continue to lead on the pandemic.

The County Board also unanimously approved a new telecommuting policy for county employees Tuesday.

The county has been operating under an emergency policy since the beginning of the pandemic last year and now that the county is transitioning to a post-pandemic workplace, its permanent policy dating back to 2012 needed to be updated.

County commissioners have been hashing out the details of the new policy since last month. They agreed in past meetings that the county needs a policy in place in case employees need to work from home, but they were concerned employees wouldn’t be in county buildings to serve the public and it would cause friction with employees whose jobs don’t lend themselves to working remotely.

Commissioners worked to tighten the policy before approving it Tuesday. They added to it on Tuesday, before their approval, that any requests to work from home will need to be reviewed by the county’s Internal Central Services Committee, although the county administrator will have final approval.

Commissioner Greg Krueger said he understands the need for it, but he doesn’t want it to become the norm among employees.

County Human Resource Director Julie Johnson told the commissioners that the county has a hard time competing with private businesses that can give out bonuses and have events with food and entertainment for their employees. Providing flexibility for workers is one thing the county can do to be competitive for employees with both private businesses and other cities and counties, she said.

Reach Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke at 507-444-2371. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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