Douglas County Commissioners approved closing the Douglas County Library to the public beginning this Friday, March 20. It would reopen again on April 1.
Library Director Dawn Dailey asked the board for the approval at Tuesday’s regular board meeting. The library system will remain open, but the doors will be closed to the public.
Dailey told commissioners several other library systems around the state, including libraries in Glenwood and Fergus Falls, have already closed.
“We were trying to do the six-foot distancing, but it is just not feasible at this point,” Dailey said.
The Tuesday meeting was unprecedented as only two commissioners – Charlie Meyer and Heather Larson – were physically at the meeting. The others, including Tim Kalina, Jerry Rapp and Chairman Keith Englund, attended via computer/telephone conferencing. Very few people were in attendance at the meeting to try and adhere to the social distancing standards set by the state due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Meyer agreed with Dailey that the library should close its doors to the public and said he was shocked that libraries weren’t included in Gov. Tim Walz’ executive order closing bars, restaurants and other gathering spaces.
At this time, no other county services are being closed. However, the commissioners approved a motion that will allow department heads to make the decision to close its doors to the public. Services would still be open and operational, but it would be through phone, email and/or other electronic means.
Laurie Bonds, director of Social Services, believes that at some point, the lobby will close to the public but Social Services would continue to serve the public. It would just eliminate the person-to-person contact.
Veterans Services Director Jake Turner also expressed interest in closing his office to the public, but continuing to serve area veterans. He said that rides are continuing for veterans who need to get to their appointments at the VA clinics.
Neither Social Services or Veterans Service is shut down currently, but announcements could be made in the coming days.
(UPDATE: As of 11:35 a.m., Veterans Services has closed its doors to the public, but will serving veterans by phone, mail and internet.)
Public Information Officer Julie Anderson said other counties around the state are not closing down service counters. Instead, they are being encouraged to use other means and to think outside the box to how they can still serve customers. She said the county has not received any guidance from the state on closing down county offices.
Rapp said the county will continue to do its best and will just need to make adjustments as needed. Englund said no one wants to shut down completely, but that letting department heads do what they need to do to protect themselves, their employees and the public is the right thing to do.
Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said it makes a lot of sense to let the department heads make that choice.
Englund said if department heads choose to shut down their office to the public, they will have to coordinate with Anderson and Heather Schlangen, the county coordinator, so that it can properly be communicated to the public.
“We will leave it in their hands to take care of our customers,” Englund said.
Kalina said the county needs to take all of this one step at a time and he doesn’t foresee closing down county offices completely.
As for the Department of Motor Vehicles, there is a process that would have to take place and the county would have to apply to shut down. This will not be happening at this time.
However, the county is looking at other measures, just as using plexiglass barriers between its employees and the public. Nothing has been approved at this point. For now, the DMV will continue to operate as is.
The commissions also approved a temporary hiring freeze for non-essential employees until the next regular board meeting, which is set for Tuesday, April 7.
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