“People banded together and took control of situations that were put in their laps with little to no warning. How quickly things changed and what we hoped would be more temporary, unfortunately became more permanent.”
By Gretta Becay
At the end of the last Dodge County Commissioner’s meeting for 2020, Chair Rhonda Toquam gave the customary review of the year. Toquam was the first-ever female Chair, and she spoke about how the year began with an issue on the Board’s agenda about how to deal with the Refugee Resettlement Executive Order. A lot of effort went into studying this issue, she reminisced.
During an interview at that time, she remarked that the biggest challenge facing the county was the roads. Because the county is mostly rural, there are hundreds of miles of roads and many bridges which all need maintenance through all seasons. Plus, the 50 inches of moisture that fell on the county in 2019 caused problems on many county roads that were still being fixed.
In February, though, a word with a darker meaning circled the meeting room. Virus? What virus?
Then on March 6, the first case of the ‘novel coronavirus’ was confirmed in the state.
March 11, Fairview Care Center locked down the facility to visitors, “at least through the end of March.” In neighboring Olmsted County, an employee tested positive for Covid 19, another term that became part of the commissioners’ vocabulary along with ‘essential’, ‘social distancing’, ‘PPE’, ‘Families First Policy’, and more.
On March 20, the commissioners held their first emergency meeting/conference call and discussed the ‘Continuity of Operations Plan’ and the Covid plan for the transfer station. Steps were taken to protect employees who worked with the public up to and including closing government buildings to walk-in traffic. Those who needed to do business with the county were encouraged to do so online or were required to make an appointment to enter the buildings.
Employees began working from home which required huge amounts of work from staff members of the information technology department.
And, all this went on while still staff members continued to do the normal things that are the responsibility of county government, explained Toquam, including upkeep on roads and bridges, dealing with the expansion of Highway 14 through part of the county near Claremont, roofs needing replacing because of the 2019 hail storms, houses and other buildings being proposed, changes in county ordinances especially the ones regarding solar farms, dealing with updates to the Nextera wind farm project, the 2020 census, Cares Act Funding distribution, the election and the list goes on and on.
County staff members took on their new workloads with grace and efficiency.
“People banded together and took control of situations that were put in their laps with little to no warning. How quickly things changed and what we hoped would be more temporary, unfortunately became more permanent,” Toquam said.
Now, as we face a new year, she said, “I think we have all come to realize that our world in some ways has been forever changed.”
The year will bring new challenges, and no one is sure what to expect, but, “we will work together to continue to create an environment that is healthy to work in, productive, and forward thinking.”
Toquam also thanked staff members in a separate letter that noted, “We thank you for embracing these challenges and continuing to move forward to do the best we could possibly do to meet the needs of the people. We also thank you for the ‘can do’ attitude that was displayed in whatever change/challenge/policy was presented.”“Whatever 2021 brings,” she commented, “We’ll face it together, with a staff that is committed to serving our communities and making Dodge County a great place to live, work, and call home.”