Tough Decisions

Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath leads discussions on how the county should continue its response to the COVID-19 outbreak while Precinct 3 Commissioner Stephen Goetsch and Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug Mathews participate via video chat in an effort to assist with social distancing.  Because the meeting was posted as a face-to-face session, however, the two West Wharton County representatives were unable to participate in voting.

Wharton County’s Disaster Declaration extends until May 11, after a Monday morning yes vote from the Wharton County commissioners.

“The primary purpose was so we could be eligible for possible reimbursement for any money we spent going forward to combat the COVID-19 virus,” County Judge Phillip Spenrath said.

Spenrath enacted the disaster declaration on March 16. Seven days later, commissioners court extended the declaration to this past Monday. After hearing back from the governor and the Texas Division of Emergency Management district coordinator, they learned they can continue the declaration indefinitely as long as they set a date to re-visit the issue.

“We’re pretty sure April is going to have some troubles,” Spenrath said. “We’re hoping great things happen by May.”

Spenrath called for a vote that was seconded by Precinct One Commissioner Richard Zahn. Precinct Two Commissioner Rusty Graves, Spenrath and Zahn voted in favor with Doug Mathews Commissioner of Precinct four and Steven Goetsch of Commissioner of Precinct three not physically present, the motion passed 3-0.

During court Monday, the commissioners exercised extreme social distancing with Goetsch and Mathews taking part via video. Because they were not present they were only permitted to ask questions and could not vote. Spenrath noted he thought this system worked well, however, he’d like everyone to continue meeting in person going forward.

Counties around Wharton County have issued “stay at home” orders, Wharton County with seven confirmed cases currently hasn’t taken that step.

“No drastic things are happening today,” Spenrath said, opening up the meeting Monday morning. 

In conjunction with the county’s disaster declaration extenion. County offices will remain by appointment only indefinitely. Offices could be opened up at any time, once everything gets better. All county services will still be performed as normal. Spenrath cautioned that everyone continues social distancing, even at county offices.

“We’re going to go (this) route as long as we can,” Spenrath said. “If the number of confirmed cases drastically increases, we may have to go to closing the offices all together to keep our employees at home to shelter.”

Nonessential court cases have been rescheduled and no jury trials are taking place until at least May as Wharton County continues to try and deal with the outbreak.

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