No business like snow business

Published 9:21 pm Monday, March 9, 2015

While three out of four weeks in the Roanoke-Chowan may have meant time-off due to the inclement weather, others who had to “answer the call” performed admirably under often adverse conditions.

Monday at their monthly meetings, County Commissioners in both Hertford and Bertie counties were praising the efforts of their various personnel; kudos for a job well done despite the ice and snow.

“I appreciate, and I know you all do too, during the inclement weather allowing our offices to be closed because we have to take it very seriously when you have snow and ice we have a charge and a duty to protect the public,” said Hertford County Commissioner Curtis Freeman at his meeting during comments.

“Citizens see that offices and businesses are open and they will try to get there if they have business,” he added. “When we do close, it’s not just our employees we’re looking out for but the public in general.  If closing down for two or three days puts us in the red, then we are not doing something right anyway.”

Commissioner Johnny Ray Farmer echoed Freeman’s comments, but added that advance planning has to be better coordinated.

“I hope that in the future we can come up with a plan on how to better close and open in inclement weather,” Farmer said. “There were some days I felt we could have been open at least a half-day in the afternoon.  Our emergency (and law enforcement) personnel were out there on the road, endangering their lives, and we may need to look at some way of (taking care of) those employees for what they do.  They don’t get a snow day.”

Commissioner Ronald J. Gatling stated that he was in agreement with the praise for the jobs well-done, but also that ……

“Many people have different ideas and opinions about these closings, but I’m going to err on the side of safety,” Gatling said. “I want to protect the citizens and employees from anything that possibly could happen.”

Chairman Bill Mitchell said safety was also his number-one concern and requested County Manager Loria Williams to “tweak” some of the communication around adverse weather situations.

“When there’s a Code-Red that’s made, does it go out to part-time employees as well?  How does that work,” Mitchell asked. “There was a situation where some employees did not get messages.”

Williams said every new Hertford County employee has two contact numbers listed with her office and that information is placed in the county system.

“It’s easy for us to do,” Williams said. “We do it for full-timers, but we could also pick up the part-timers; it’s very simple for us to do.”

Mitchell inquired about separating essential and non-essential county staffers as part of the database.

“There are some partial openings,” Williams replied. “We can establish that as well.”

Sheriff Juan Vaughan informed the Board there were some 21 vehicular accidents reported to his office over the two-week adverse weather period, between the county and the towns of Ahoskie and Murfreesboro.

“We make these (weather) decisions based on the Sheriff and Emergency Management,” said Freeman. “It’s not the five of us (Commissioners), because we’re not out there; we go off of their recommendations.  We need to update how we come to our priorities.

In Bertie County, prior to the start of regular business, Commission Chairman Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson read a statement into the record that recognized county employees and staff for their commitment to the county during the recent inclement weather events.

“While we had to close the Courthouse and various facilities,” Wesson read, “all of our essential staff continued to perform with professionalism and without missing a beat.”

The proclamation recognized Sheriff John Holley and his staff as well as Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper’s office.

“Mitch has become very proficient at getting ambulances un-stuck”, Wesson joked.

The chairman had further praise for the Commissioners’ support of the purchase of more four-wheel drive vehicles from this past year’s budget.

“Sheriff Holley reports his department was much more prepared to respond this year thanks to the board’s action,” Wesson intoned. “Mitch likewise reports he has a truck with the appropriate towing capacity for when an ambulance does get stuck; he’s not – in his words – ‘tearing it all apart’.”

Other praises in the statement included to the county’s Maintenance Department for clearing sidewalks, to the Inspections for checking on the heat in the county buildings, and to the water department for monitoring the county’s wells, tanks, and pump stations daily against freeze-over.

“Many of our departments recognize that the board has supported providing the county’s staffs with the appropriate tools with which to do their jobs,” Wesson read.

On the question of heavy snow removal he said there should be thankfulness for the roof replacements on the Courthouse, the Council on Aging, the Recreation Building, and Lawrence Memorial Library.

“If we had not appropriated those funds to replace those roofs we would be in serious trouble with the amount of snow and rain we have had this season,” the chairman noted.

Wesson saved some of his highest praise for County Manager Scott Sauer and his staff for being “spot-on” with office closings and keeping everyone updated with the situation.”

“I could not be more proud of the dedicated employees of this county who continue to amaze me with their work ethic, and their concern for this community,” he concluded. “So on behalf of this Board of Commissioners, our thanks goes out to them for a job well done.”