Mike Schulte

Osceola County supervisor Mike Schulte requests input from staff and the other supervisors Feb. 28 on when to close the courthouse because of weather.

SIBLEY—Winter weather closures topped the agenda for the Osceola County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Referencing the exceptional winter experienced across the region, supervisor Mike Schulte requested guidance from his fellow supervisors and courthouse department heads as to when to close the building due to inclement weather after yet another round of snowstorms the previous week caused disruptions to the schedule.

The Osceola County Courthouse in Sibley, which normally is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays, opened at 10 a.m. and closed at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, and opened at noon Thursday, Feb. 23.

“In my eyes, you guys handled it right,” said Veterans Affairs director Craig Sorensen.

Those commuting from out of town had mixed opinions on the subject, especially regarding staff reporting to work.

“If the plows are pulled off and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office recommends no travel, obviously, they don’t want people out,” said county treasurer Becky Marco. “If you open your doors, you’re inviting everybody in.”

Supervisor Jayson Vande Hoef supported closing the courthouse to the public under the conditions listed by Marco.

County attorney Nolan McGowan reiterated Marco’s statement that if the courthouse is open, people will try to come in.

“From my office’s point of view, each and every one of those days where it’s debatable, the clerk of courts office is likely closed. At that point, it’s not critical to be in my office,” McGowan said.

Reggie Ommen serves as the maintenance and groundskeeper for the courthouse.

“There are days that no matter how hard Reggie works, there will be significant risk to people who come in here,” McGowan said. “That’s one thing to think about is people getting hurt on our premises.”

Workman’s compensation could be another issue if an employee gets hurt.

“Pretty much everything we do has to be open to the public, so as soon as you lock the doors, I can’t have court that day,” McGowan said.

“But if the weather’s really bad, we’re probably not having court anyway, so if you want to close the courthouse to the public and say it’s just employees that can come in, I think that’s an acceptable middle ground.”

For a late opening, auditor Rochelle Van Tilburg requested a decision by 7 a.m. to allow time for notifications. Operations superintendent Mike O’Connor coordinates decision making with the board chair.

County engineer Keith Brann stated the benefits of having a late start to allow the plow drivers more time to assess the weather and road conditions. He said on exceptionally bad days, the maintainers help on the hard-surfaced roads before even starting on the gravel roads. They try to give auditor Rochelle Van Tilburg and Schulte an hour’s notice of the anticipated conditions.

“I absolutely want our employees to be safe, but if there are some in town that could make it, I hesitate to get to the point where we’re saying nobody can come in,” Vande Hoef said. “We’re adults and capable of making good decisions. But I do want to keep the public from coming in if it’s questionable.”

Van Tilburg asked about the procedure if the courthouse is already open and the weather deteriorates. The board recommended closing the courthouse to the public and having the option to send employees home once they are notified that no travel is advised or the plows have been pulled.

McGowan also suggested determining a plan for how missed days would be handled for employees not able to work on days when the courthouse is closed. Some entities require staff to use vacation time.

No formal procedure was set during the meeting, but Schulte will refer to the suggestions discussed should additional closures be needed this winter.