GREG LOWER

ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners discussed possible goals for the coming year during Thursday evening’s regular meeting.

The commission re-elected 3rd District Commissioner Gail Klaassen as chair for the coming year, but held off on appointing positions on other boards and committees. County Clerk Heather Elsworth is preparing a list of the boards where county commissioners have seats or votes.

2nd District Commissioner David Orr nominated Klaassen as chair, seconded by 1st District Commissioner Paul Westhoff. Orr read a prepared statement where he praised Klaassen for taking the commission position during a difficult time.

“It has been a learning curve,” Klaassen commented.

Commissioners also approved the schedule of holidays for 2020. They compared Neosho County’s past holiday schedule with other counties, and voted to leave the schedule as it is. The schedule includes a half-day off for courthouse employees on July 17 this year for the annual Erie Old Soldiers & Sailors Reunion bean feed. The Christmas Eve and Christmas and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day holidays fall on Thursdays and Fridays this year.

Commissioners did not take formal action on goals, but Klaassen had the item on the agenda for discussion.

“I like to be organized,” she said.

Orr said the commission will have enough to do to finish current issues.

“We’ve got a year’s worth of cleaning up our messes,” he said.

Klaassen said county employees have been neglected and need to be a priority.

“We need to tell them that we back them, we believe in them,” she said.

Part of that process will be to update the employee policy book, she said.

Klaassen also said she wants to make establishing a steering committee on wind farm policy a priority, and also needs to prioritize decisions on how to distribute Payment in Lieu of Taxes money from the Neosho Ridge Wind project.

Orr said he would like to see a chart made up to prioritize road repairs to bring all up to good condition within a year, starting with those most in need. Klaassen said Road and Bridge Director Mike  Brown  is  developing a weekly report on which roads receive work.

Orr also said he would like a policy on fees for making document copies at the county clerk’s office. Emergency 911 Director Lori Nally said she would like to see the courthouse lobby appearance improved.

Klaassen said she wants to improve the way meetings are conducted as far as the order of business and how information packets are formatted. She asked that people who wish to be placed on the agenda provide more information on their topics before the meeting.

But spectator LeRoy Burk, speaking later during the public forum, said that would infringe on the rights to open speech.

During commissioner commentary, Orr apologized to Westhoff for conflict at the Jan. 2 meeting.

“It was not professional,” he said.

Also during the public comments, Shirley Estrada criticized Orr for postings on his Facebook page, and also criticized comments responding to the posts.

In business with county department heads, the commissioners approved an emergency water resolution presented by Emergency Management Director Melanie Kent-Culp in response to issues with contamination of the Neosho River during a Jan. 1 incident. The resolution allows the county to have access to funding resources if they are available.

Kent-Culp discussed communication issues with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that contributed to the incident.

Commissioners also discussed the health department budget with administrator Teresa Starr.

They voted to acknowledge issues that could leave the department budget $34,000 short. In its initial approval, the commission approved a 5 percent increase in salaries, but did not provide funds. Some grant funding that usually is awarded is not budgeted in case the applications are turned down, and the county had budgeted $117,000 in income from grants.

Commissioners approved training requests from Appraiser Bob McElroy, and also a request for an employee credit card.

They approved an agreement with Franklin County to house its prisoners in the Neosho County jail.

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