Courthouse rules get even tighter

Garvin County's commissioners (from left) Mike Gollihare, Kenneth Holden and Gary Ayres discuss this week even stricter access into the county courthouse because of the coronavirus threat. Right above them is updated information on the COVID-19 pandemic. The public is encouraged to call the offices inside and use mail services for such things as paying annual property taxes. (PV Democrat photo)

A move to limit the public's access to the Garvin County Courthouse just went up a notch or two as officials working inside want to do their part in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

Just days ago all three county commissioners gave their blessing to limiting the access by only having one entry door to the building in Pauls Valley and reducing the number of people allowed in any of the offices at one time.

The trio agreed Monday to not close the courthouse but instead tighten restrictions, while also encouraging the public to use more phone and mail services when doing their courthouse business.

Discussion came during a regular meeting as commissioners met with several county officers, Dave Johnson, Garvin County's emergency management director, and Carol Dillingham, who is an assistant district attorney serving as legal counsel in both Garvin and McClain counties.

“I strongly second Carol's idea to close the courthouse to the public and follow McClain County's example,” Johnson said.

Moments earlier Dillingham informed the group the courthouse in Purcell has basically closed it doors with the public still having access to offices inside by phone and mail.

“I strongly recommend the courthouse to be closed to the public except as required for court. We've got to be clear that the courthouse is still functioning,” he said.

“What we're trying to do is stop the spread of the virus. That's what this is all about. People can still pay their taxes, do whatever business in the courthouse by phone or mail.

“People in need can absolutely come to the courthouse, but we're encouraging them to not come to the building if at all possible. The west door of the annex will still be open during regular hours. Staff will be there to address anything that comes in.”

Among those attending the meeting was Leah Edwards, who as the district judge serving in both counties wants the public to know people seeking things like protective orders can still get the help they need.

“I think it sends out the wrong message if we say the courthouse is closed,” Edwards said.

“I don't want it put it out there that domestic abuse victims can't get help. We want them to know they can come here and get help.”

Johnson said there was one confirmed case of the coronavirus in Oklahoma back on March 5. That number grew to more than 100 on Tuesday.

He estimates the status of COVID-19 in Oklahoma is about a week behind states like California, Washington, New Jersey and New York, while the virus first started to take off in China last November as it appears to have leveled there at the present time.

“We need to convince people to stay home unless absolutely necessary,” Johnson said. “We need to take extraordinary measures with this.”

During this week's meeting commissioners voted to suspend the open bidding process because of the emergency as the plan is to purchase safety masks for first responders and others in the county.

Given approval was the emergency purchase of 20,000 surgical masks at a cost of 58 cents each and 10,000 dust makes with price tag around $2.60 each.

“We'll distribute them throughout the county to first responders and county employees that deal with the public,” Johnson adds.

•••

Dillingham crafted a letter at the meeting basically asking the public to stay away from the courthouse in Pauls Valley if at possible.

“To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, public access to the courthouse is strictly limited to the public except for required criminal and other necessary court proceedings.

“All county offices will be conducting business by telephone as much as possible. Remaining property taxes may be paid by mail. If you need a replacement statement, call the treasurer's office and one will be provided along with a stamped return envelope.

“If you believe you must come to the courthouse, consider calling the appropriate office in advance. Otherwise, the west door to the annex is the only access point. County personnel will assist you at the door.

County office phone numbers are:

• Commissioners – 405-238-2685.

• Assessor – 405-238-2409.

• County Clerk – 405-238-2772.

• Court Clerk – 405-238-5596.

• Treasurer – 405-238-7301.

• Sheriff – 405-238-7591.

• Election Board – 405-238-3303.

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