ELIZABETHTOWN - The Essex County Board of Supervisors put their stamp on a measure to prevent the spread of swine flu and sent some unified messages to the state government at their regular meeting Oct. 5.
The most heavily discussed topic was a proposed change in personnel policy that would require county employees suspected of having the H1N1 virus to stay home for a minimum of seven days.
County Attorney Dan Manning said the policy would apply to union and non-union personnel and that department heads would have the authority to decide if leave was necessary based on whether the employee had a temperature of above 100 degrees fahrenheit.
The goal, Palmer said, was to prevent other county employees from being exposed to the virus, which he fears could potentially sideline as much as half of the county's 650-person workforce.
Still, some questioned the policy and the way it guaranteed pay for employees on leave for swine flu. Even those employees who have no vacation time saved would be allotted sick days they hadn't yet earned.
"I just don't believe that we can provide a benefit to an employee for unearned time," said Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, noting it might be met with opposition from the state comptroller. Palmer said it shouldn't be a problem.
Lewis Supervisor David Blades expressed concern that some employees might try to abuse the policy, which does not require sick employees to see a doctor.
Jay supervisor Randy Douglas asked if requiring an employee to have their temperature taken might be considered an invasion of privacy. Manning said use of a thermometer would be considered a reasonable intrusion, while requiring employees to be vaccinated for H1N1 would be considered too intrusive.
The resolution passed with both Scozzafava and Blades voting against it.
Fuel to the fire
Following discussions at previous meetings, the board unanimously passed a resolution urging the state Department of Environmental Conservation to continue issuing permits to towns for brush burning. The DEC adopted a new policy Sept. 21 that bans all open burning except for campfires and small amounts of brush for 10 months of the year.
Previously, burning of residential waste in any town with a population of 20,000 or more was prohibited, but about 850 towns across the state could still allow burning. The new policy, which takes effect Oct. 15, prevents towns from renewing permits for municipal burns.
Essex Supervisor Ron Jackson said the action would cause more pollution and fire hazards by forcing people to burn brush in small amounts in their own backyards, contrasted with less frequent, centralized, and controlled community burns.
"When you get that much brush burning that hot, it burns cleaner," said Jackson, calling the policy "a step backwards."
Scozzafava pointed out that open burning was prohibited outright within incorporated villages, so village residents would have to dispense of their brush in other, more expensive ways.
"I hope DEC realizes that this is just not going to work in these rural areas," he said.
According to Schroon Lake supervisor and board chair Cathy Moses, the Adirondack Park Agency has joined in urging the DEC to reconsider the ban. She encouraged supervisors to direct the numerous complaints they've received on the issue to the DEC offices in Ray Brook.
Texting law too lax
Douglas asked to revisit a prior discussion about passing a county law to prohibit text messaging while driving. A similar law was passed at the state level Aug. 28, convincing many supervisors that it would supercede any county law. Douglas disagreed.
"My problem with the state law is it's a joke," he said. "It doesn't mean anything."
The law treats text messaging as a secondary offense, meaning a driver can only be ticketed for it if they are ticketed for another moving violation. Instead of a new county law, Douglas urged the board to ask the state legislature to amend their law to make texting while driving a primary violation.
Short-staffed for elections
Scozzafava brought up concerns about the Board of Elections, specifically the absence of Republican election commissioner Lewis Sanders.
According to Jackson, Sanders has been ordered by doctors to stay on sick leave indefinitely after being hospitalized about a month ago.
The board went into executive session for more than half an hour. When they returned, they passed a resolution that would provide additional funding to the Board of Elections to pay for more staffing in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 election.
Jackson said the money would likely be used to give more part-time hours to an existing Board of Election staff member.
"We're short a person, and this is a busy time, so we're just trying to get some extra help," said Jackson.