“Better Prepared”: Government a mix of online, in-person as COVID fades

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Keith Luke of the Nevada County Facilities Department used a disinfectant gun in the boardrooms earlier this month. The county has since started holding some meetings in the chambers as coronavirus restrictions were lifted.
Photo: Elias Funez

Access to the county’s facilities had been restricted for some time due to the pandemic, although business of government continued.

With the state blueprint for a safer economy being lifted this week, the return to normal is on track.

In Nevada County, many county buildings and counter services remained open during the pandemic, said Alison Lehman, county executive officer. District offices adapted to new models of service delivery, while expanded support was available online.



“We have improved automated services, improved our online presence and implemented lobby management systems to reduce waiting times and crowds,” said Lehman. “Starting last Tuesday, we will resume public meetings in boardrooms and reopen nationwide services based on the latest California Department of Health guidelines.”

During the pandemic, the county expanded access for residents to contact the board of directors, relying on e-comments and calls. To curb the spread of COVID-19, the county urged those who are able to work remotely without giving up the service, Lehman said. In the meantime, some facilities have never been removed, including the sheriff’s office and public works department.



“We are now investigating where remote working could continue as we have seen improved productivity in many sectors,” said Lehman. “Employees have become familiar with new teleworking technologies that have made work more efficient and will continue to evolve.”

Nick Wilczek, District Librarian for the Nevada County Community Library, stands in the halls of the library, which opened with limited capacity last month. In the library, the situation will return to normal after the state’s coronavirus mandates are lifted.
Photo: Elias Funez

One option is to implement a hybrid teleworking environment that aims to support extended working hours for customers in the county and improve employee retention. The hardships of the past year have increased the ability of district staff to adjust to a public health model.

“We are better prepared to scale emergency response operations through the deployment of disaster relief personnel,” said Lehman. “We are more coordinated than ever with our local jurisdictions, east to west. I couldn’t be more proud of the way our team provided vital resources and leadership during this ongoing event. “

Supervisor Hardy Bullock praised the changes.

“These can improve our environment, add (service) at a lower cost, more people, with no travel expenses and overhead,” explained Bullock. “This will reduce car journeys, reduce greenhouse gases, improve our environment and our bottom line.”

Mental health and telemedical services are two prime examples of how optimized services improve outcomes and make them more affordable, Bullock said. Other services must be personal and the district is committed to optimizing them.

“Most importantly, the safety of our community is our top priority,” he said.

CORE SERVICES

The Nevada County Community Development Agency office is now open at the Eric Rood Administrative Center in Nevada City.
Photo: Elias Funez

Craig Griesbach, director of construction, said the core services will be very similar to those before the pandemic.

There will be some adjustments, however. The department will use appointment check-in software to enable front desk and online services. It allows remote check-ins to log into the Eric Rood Administrative Center while driving.

“We will adapt our ‘drop-and-pick-up box service’ in the main lobby area,” said Griesbach. This enables customers to submit and collect plans and permits quickly. Recent improvements include online permit insurance and fee payments.

Grass Valley city manager Tim Kiser said he was waiting for the state’s color-code tiered framework to be lifted last Tuesday. Any permanent changes would depend on this change.

Regarding Zoom meetings, Kiser said the council would prefer to return to face-to-face meetings. Public commentary will be available remotely.

“We used to always look for ways to leave comments before a meeting using email and voicemail. We are currently also receiving comments on Zoom. “

The biggest change the pandemic caused was the city hall’s closure to the public, causing people to do their business online, including paying bills, getting building permits and planning construction plan reviews, which allowed contractors to do their business continue while the town hall remained closed.

In Nevada City, city manager Joan Phillipe noted that the affairs of government will remain essentially the same as they were before the crisis hit. But she wasn’t sure about Zoom meetings.

“The city will continue to broadcast as it did before the pandemic,” she said. “We are in the process of upgrading the IT system in the chambers so that we can hold meetings in the chambers again.”

Many employees have returned to the town hall. However, if there are circumstances that require remote work, the city will work with the person to accommodate the request.

The biggest changes due to the pandemic are technological, Phillipe said. Zoom glitches were quickly resolved. However, the lack of face-to-face meetings was difficult as employees lost a sense of face-to-face interaction that was not possible in Zoom.

“Applicants who would otherwise have had the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with staff to review an application or project now had to do so by phone or other means,” said Phillipe.

Other challenges included managing the impact on local businesses, including the provision of al fresco dining and road closures.

“The town hall is already open to the public again (masks required) and as soon as the modernization of the council chamber is completed, the council and the planning commission can meet again in person,” she said.

The public will initially not have access to the chambers, but will have access to all meetings online, as has been the case throughout the pandemic.

William Roller is an employee at The Union. He can be reached at [email protected]




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