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County office access restricted: Public is asked to schedule appointments

Starting today, people trying to get into the Lawrence County Courthouse will have to have an appointment to get in.

Because the state is limiting gatherings as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the courthouse is taking measures to keep the public safe and to keep doing public work.

“We have to continue public service, so this is how we are going to do it,” said Chris Kline, the chief deputy auditor. “We didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction and shut everything down.

The government can’t shut down, payroll has to happen, bills have to be paid and the public has to be taken care of. We just have to do everything safely.”

On Monday, the county commissioners met in executive session to discuss the matter, since the state is under a state of emergency and among the orders is one that limits gatherings to no more than 10 people per a recommendation from the CDC. The new measures take effect today and includes all county-owned or —operated buildings.

“Basically, we are urging everyone to do things via the phone, email, fax machine or good, old-fashioned snail mail,” Kline said. “We are limiting public exposure to our building and all the employees. If someone absolutely has to be in the building, call, and that officeholder will make the decision if they should come in or not and they will have to schedule an appointment and that appointment list will be given to security every day. And they will not let in people who are not on that list.”

Kline said that other agencies the courthouse offices have to interact with, like those bringing in money for payouts, they are making arrangements to meet them at the door to do the transaction.

“That is going to continue until further notice,” he said. “But this is fluid, things are changing, if not every day, every hour. We may have to revise it out and send it out again. We just ask everyone to bear with us and we’ll make it through and we’ll do what we have to do.”

The information is posted on the county commissioners’ website, lawrencecounty.org, and on their Facebook page. A link will also be posted on all the county office websites.

Activity at various agencies include:

• Tax payments should be done by mail; the effective date of payment will be based on the postmark.

• Real estate transactions should also be done through the mail.

• There will be a drop box between the doors on the Fifth Street entrance for documents to be delivered to offices such as auto titles and deeds. If payment is required, pay by check or money order. On the envelope, mark the office it should go to.

• The commissioner meetings will be livestreamed on Facebook, but will not be open to the public. This is being done consistently with an opinion from the Ohio Attorney General. The only people in the meeting will be the three commissioners, their administrative assistant, the livestream operator, and elected officials or department heads that are required to be at the meeting.

• The county jail has suspended visitors until further notice. Safe practices are in effect to limit contact. Employees are continuing to work and provide services.

• The county engineer’s office, the Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services, the Union Rome Sewer office, Lawrence County Animal Shelter, the Lawrence County Juvenile Center, Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Lawrence County Health Department, Lawrence County 911/EMS Center and the Lawrence County Joint Response Operations Center are all closed to the public, except for scheduled appointments.

• The Lawrence County Municipal Court has limited access. Any necessary meetings need to be scheduled with social distancing in mind.

• The Lawrence County Common Pleas Court has issued an order that cases will be done by teleconferencing when available; all civil trials and criminal trials that are not time sensitive are suspended until April 6; people in the court are limited to staff, parties to the case, lawyers, necessary witnesses and certain members of the media, family and friends will not be allowed in; case by case exceptions may be made by the court; and people are asked to use the phone, fax or email when possible.

• The Lawrence County Probate-Juvenile Court cases will resume all non-emergency cases on April 16. All parties represented by a lawyer will not be able to attend pre-trials or non-adjudicating hearings.

• The Lawrence County DD Office will be closed to the public and services to their clients will be done remotely. The staff will still be available. Home visits are suspended except in emergency situations.