COVID-19 and Operating the Township (06/30)
COVID-19 and Operating the Township (06/30)
June 30th Update – ***NOTE this resource is being updated as the most recent orders are interpreted and understood. ***
This article addresses how townships may hold board meetings, operate during the emergency, protections for employees subject to quarantine, the conclusion of Executive Orders, and additional information on COVID-19. The latest information from MDH can be found here.
Table of Contents:
- Statewide Emergency Currently Expires June 30th, 2021, at 11:59 pm. The full Order can be found here.
- Statewide Mask Mandate is NOT in effect. Effective Friday, May 14, 2021, the Statewide Mask Mandate has been rescinded as it relates to townships and their activities.
- Telephone Meetings Available: Yes, towns may continue to use telephone meetings.
- Emergency Preparedness Plan: NOT required, towns do not need a preparedness plan.
- Township Facility Rentals: Yes, it is possible to rent or allow public use of town facilities or amenities.
Preparedness Plans: Townships, may adopt a preparedness plan before reopening to in-person work or in-person interaction with the public. Preparedness plans provide the procedures and rules that officers, employees, and the public must follow when carrying out township business. MAT has drafted township-specific preparedness plans, which can be found here (for towns without employees) and here (for towns with employees).
Township Operations, Officers, and Employees: Towns may continue to use remote means of communication.
The Use of Township Amenities: Towns may make the town hall or other amenity available.
Quarantine if Exposed: Township employees showing signs of illness should stay home to avoid passing COVID-19 to anyone else. The township may not discharge, discipline, threaten, or penalize any employee or discriminated in the work conditions of the employee because the employee has been in quarantine or has been responsible for the care of a person in quarantine. Minn. Stat. § 144.4196.
Townships may require employees to use any available sick or paid time off during their time of illness or quarantine. The township is not required to pay employees unavailable to work and have exhausted their paid leave. MDH has encouraged employers to be generous, understanding, and flexible in allowing employees to remain home for illness and to care for those who are ill.
Township Open Meetings:
Towns may meet in person, but towns may continue use remote or telephonic meeting options for their town meetings. MAT strongly recommends towns also provide a call-in or other remote meeting attendance option so officers and the public can participate remotely if they choose.
Teleconferencing: Minn. Stat. 13D.021 allows the town to conduct meetings remotely. If the town decides to do so either partly or fully through teleconferencing, the town must follow these requirements:
- The township chairperson decides an in-person meeting or interactive television meeting is not practical or prudent because of a health pandemic or an emergency declared under Minnesota Statutes chapter 12;
- All township board members participating in the meeting can hear all other participants;
- All members of the public at the regular meeting location can hear all discussion and testimony and votes of the town board’s members unless attendance at the meeting is not feasible because of health pandemic or emergency declaration;
- At least one member of the town board is physically present at the regular meeting location, unless unfeasible because of a health pandemic or emergency; and
- All votes are conducted by roll call so each member’s vote can be identified and recorded.
Authority: COVID-19 has been labeled a pandemic illness by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). As such, township boards may choose to use teleconferencing for their meetings during the public health emergency.
Notice of Meetings: Teleconferenced meetings should post notice as usual. The board must ensure they take excellent minutes of their proceedings and may consider audio recording these meetings. If possible, the township must allow members of the public to join the teleconference.
Further Questions: Please refer to MAT’s resource Options for Meeting Remotely, found here. For information on how to set up and use a teleconferencing provider, please use this link.
Signatures on Checks: Townships may arrange for checks to be signed or sent by only one officer if certain processes and protections are followed. Minn. Stat. 367.18 says that claims audited and approved by the town board, and countersigned by the clerk, become a check on the township’s account once signed by the treasurer. Based on this statute, townships usually require the signatures of the chairperson, clerk, and treasurer for a check to be valid. This statute describes one method by which a township check or payment can be issued, but it is not the only method of paying claims.
One option is to use electronic funds transfers (EFT), which is allowed by Minn. Stat. 471.38. An EFT does not have three signatures on the check and instead relies on the town board approving a claim, the chairperson, clerk, and treasurer signing or indicating their approval on the claim form or in the township board minutes. Additional guidance on the use of EFT can be found here: https://www.auditor.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=20090724.031 .
A second option is for townships to arrange for their checks to be signed by only one officer if: (1) the township board has audited and approved the claim; (2) the clerk has indicated his or her approval that the board took the action indicated; (3) the treasurer indicates there is money available in the township’s account to pay the claims; (4) the board has delegated the authority to issue the check; and (5) each of these elements are documented in the township board minutes.
Last, townships should remember that payroll can be processed without a board meeting based on the authority described in Minn. Stat. 471.38, subd. 2, if the employees’ rates of pay have been set in advance.
More Information: Some useful links and information can be found at the following websites:
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
CDC’s Facts About COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/share-facts.html
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html