Policies to reopen county offices outlined at Supervisors meeting

Published 7:00 am Thursday, June 25, 2020

Most county buildings will continue to offer services via curbside or through drive thru after July 1, except for the tax assessor’s office, which will again allow the public into the office.

Public Defender’s Office

The county’s office of the public defender will be changing its operations after concerns that an employee might have been exposed to COVID-19 during a hearing.

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The jail had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 earlier this week, said County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin. A staff member at the Road Department was also exposed to COVID-19, because a staff member’s relative tested positive, said Lumpkin. Any member of the county’s staff who is exposed will be expected to come to work, but leadership in each office will monitor whether that person is experiencing symptoms. Anyone who experiences symptoms will have to get tested and stop going to work.

The office of the public defender recently had a client who tested positive for COVID-19, said Public Defender Matt Busby. Busby was concerned that some of his office’s staff might have been exposed, but later learned that they had not. The public defenders do not see clients in the office, instead meeting with them via Zoom meetings. However, the public defenders still come into contact with clients while in courtrooms.

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors gave the public defenders office permission to allow two of its attorneys work from home, while Busby and the office’s secretary continue to work at the office.

The measure is intended to prevent the entire office from becoming sick at the same time, he said.

“Every defendant’s entitled to a preliminary hearing under the Constitution. If all three of us are down, we’re going to put that Constitutional right in a jam, so I just felt like being a little proactive on my end,” said Busby.

Tax Assessor

The tax assessor’s office in Picayune will reopen the lobby on July 1 for customers who want to conduct business. The number of customers allowed in the building will be limited to allow for social distancing. The tax office’s drive thru will still be open.

Circuit Clerk and Chancery Clerk

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss how to reopen county buildings to the public on July 1.

Circuit Clerk Nance Stokes pressed the Board to address what the county’s protocol would be if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, how the county would clean spaces like bathrooms and hallways after opening the courthouse to the public and whether members of the public would be required to wear face masks when entering county buildings. These are concerns her staff members have about reopening the county buildings to the public, said Stokes.

Stokes said she knows some county offices in Marion County have had to close temporarily after employees tested positive for the virus.

In light of her concerns, the Board decided to continue limiting public access to the county courthouse. Board President Sandy Kane Smith said that under the current operation model all members of the public have been able to access the services they need.

The Circuit Clerk and Chancery Clerk will have their employees return to office spaces in Chimney Square to offer services over the phone starting July 1. The public will not be able to enter the offices, but members of the public can call those offices when they arrive to drop off paperwork at the Picayune offices.

Marriage licenses are available from the Circuit Court’s office by appointment. Voter registration cannot be completed online, but residents can print the registration form at home and mail it in or drop the completed form off at the Circuit Clerk’s office, said Stokes.

Attorneys will continue to be able to come into the Chancery Clerk’s office in Poplarville in order to conduct research, said Chancery Clerk Melinda Bowman. Soon a new system will be in place to allow attorneys to do land searches online instead of having to come in person.

Judges have control over what protocol will be followed in their courtroom, like whether people have to wear masks or follow social distancing protocols, said Stokes. Judges are requiring masks be worn in courtrooms.