ELLSWORTH -- The Pierce County Board could decide this week to amend the public health ordinance.
A special meeting will be held Tuesday, July 14, for the first reading.
On May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that the Department of Health Services did not have authority to issue the Stay-at-Home Order. Because of this ruling, DHS is not able to issue any orders relating to the pandemic without first working with the Legislature, resulting in local health departments taking responsibility for their jurisdictions.
The Pierce County Board had planned to discuss this topic at the June 23 meeting. However, due to technical difficulties, the meeting had to be postponed.
There have been residents of Pierce County who have voiced concerns that this ordinance would expand the health director’s power.
On Friday, Pierce County Public Health Director AZ Snyder spoke with members of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce.
“There are indeed checks and balances to any local health officer’s authority and power," she said, adding, “I am appointed by the Pierce County Board of Supervisors. I serve at their pleasure. They can fire me at any time -- even if I look at them wrong.”
According to the background information compiled by county staff for Tuesday’s meeting, one of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s main concerns was that there is a criminal penalty for those who disregard stay-at-home orders or other orders by the state’s Department of Health Services. Therefore, Pierce County staff are recommending that the county implements a civil penalty, not a criminal penalty, for any local ordinances.
Snyder explained that a criminal penalty “may not be appropriate.”
Snyder also emphasized that the county decides who is prosecuted; that is not her decision.
The Public Health Department is working with individuals and businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So far, the department has not had to close any businesses due to the pandemic. Although, Snyder explained, a few businesses in River Falls closed temporarily on a voluntary basis.
Snyder stated, “My job is to keep us from getting to a point where we even have to talk about a shelter in place order.”
The County Board will meettat 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, in the River Falls High School auditorium, 818 Cemetery Road.