Superior, Douglas County declare state of emergency
City considers closing most offices to the public but leaves door open for spring election
The City of Superior and Douglas County declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, March 16.
The shifting landscape of the rapidly spreading disease could change the way local government operates and the way people vote in the elections April 7 and May 12.
City responds to pandemic
While there are no plans currently to withhold city services, the way those services are delivered will be changing, said Mayor Jim Paine.
The city will close government offices to the public, specifically Finance and Building Inspection, Paine said.
“We will still be accessible by phone and email. So we will be at work. We just won’t be allowing the public to come in and meet with us face-to-face,” he said Monday morning.
He said if someone needs a building permit, for example, that could be handled by emailing the Building Inspection Department.
The Lew Martin Senior Center is already closed, and the Superior Public Library will close at the end of business on Tuesday, March 17, Paine said. Both facilities will be closed for an indefinite amount of time, but staff will be available by phone to answer questions from citizens.
Furthermore, the city canceled the Public Works and Public Safety Committee meetings planned for Wednesday, March 18.
The City Council will meet as planned for Tuesday, March 17 because the Council needs to take formal action on the emergency declaration.
Paine said the only exception to public access to city offices would be the City Clerk’s office where people can vote early and register in-person for the April 7 election.
Police and fire departments will also continue to provide services to the community, he said.
The Superior Fire Department has already changed its protocols for responding to medical emergencies, to ensure that firefighters working closely with patients have the proper protective equipment, Battalion Chief Camron Vollbrecht reported to the Police and Fire Commission last week.
County will monitor situation
Douglas County has no plans to close its offices to the public at this time, but officials are asking people to call or email the county rather than visit the Government Center, said Country Administrator Ann Doucette.
“The situation changes by the hour, but as of today, Douglas County offices are not closed; however, we are encouraging everyone to do as much of their business online if possible,” Doucette said.
She said the county provides essential services that cannot be closed, such as 911, law enforcement, health and social work, and transportation services.
“We are going to start giving people that can telecommuting options,” Doucette said. “Especially with the schools closing, some employees will have to take more time off to be with their families and their children.”
Two years ago, Douglas County mandated its departments develop contingency plans to ensure the continuity of operations in the event of an emergency, Doucette said. Those plans allow the county to continue providing essential services in the event that staffing levels drop.
The Douglas County Board meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 19 in Room 201 of the Government Center. They will have to vote on the emergency declaration issued on Monday.
“County Board will be held with remote access offered to board members who may be vulnerable," said Sue Sandvick, Douglas County Clerk.
Monday, Gov. Tony Evers also directed the state Department of Health Services to prohibit public gatherings or 50 or more people. The executive order signed by the governor also authorizes state funds to support local health departments with costs related to isolation and quarantine.
Doucette said the purpose of the state of emergency declaration was to ensure the city and county could access those additional resources.
Virus impacts spring election
The Wisconsin Elections Commission is encouraging voters to cast their ballots by mail in the upcoming elections.
New voters and those that have had a name or address change since the last election would have to act fast to register online or by mail to meet the Wednesday, March 18 deadline for registration. Mailed registrations have to be postmarked by March 18, but voters can register online at myvote.wi.gov, where they will also be able to have a ballot sent to them.
After this date, electors must register in-person at the municipal clerk's office or at their polling place on Election Day.
“I certainly recommend they request a ballot sooner than later,” said Superior City Clerk Terri Kalan.
Polls will be open on Election Day, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
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