WAHOO – For the first time since March 18, the Saunders County Courthouse is open for business. But things may look a little different once you get inside.
The Saunders County Board of Supervisors voted during its June 2 meeting to open the courthouse to the public on Monday. The facility had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saunders County Attorney Joe Dobesh said the board consulted Saunders County Emergency Manager Terry Miller and Three Rivers Public Health Department for their most current recommendations regarding the pandemic. The loosening of some Directed Health Measures by the state was a factor in making the decision. The fact that the county is located near the state’s most populous areas, yet infection rates remain low, was another consideration.
“The numbers are staying at a very reasonable level considering the counties around us,” Dobesh said.
All offices are open to the public. But there are some new procedures put in place for visitors. The wooden benches that sat in the middle of the second floor at the courthouse are now gone. There are tables in front of the customer service windows to help maintain social distancing. And taped off squares on the floor will help the public know where to stand. Wearing face masks is requested throughout the facility and required in some offices. The south entrance is the only way to enter or exit the building.
“We’re just trying to keep everyone safe, the public and the staff,” said Dobesh.
During the closure, county employees continued to provide services to the public. Tasks were performed online, by phone or customers dropped off payments and forms in an outdoor drop box. As County Clerk Patti Lindgren said when the facility shut down in March, “We can’t shut down.”
The closure had also affected county offices located in other parts of Wahoo, including offices downtown. The Law Enforcement Judicial Center (LEJC), a second building in the courthouse complex that houses county court, district court and the jail, also includes the county attorney’s office. Dobesh said the LEJC hasn’t been closed to the public during the pandemic because the courts remained open.
The Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court is the only official who could cancel court, Dobesh said in March. The order for the courts to shut down was never issued, and work carried on. Many items were rescheduled and some hearings were held via teleconference.
Dobesh said there are some changes at the county and district courts, with new procedures for the public to follow. Fewer people are allowed into the courtrooms to keep in line with social distancing guidelines and the wearing of masks is encouraged, he said.