WORTHINGTON — In the unprecedented times of a global pandemic, Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday conducted their first board meeting without any of them actually being present in the boardroom.

Zoom, an online application that provides a virtual meeting space — with both video and audio connectivity — made it possible for commissioners and administrative staff to continue to conduct business at a time when social distancing and staying at home is encouraged.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson, as well as Deputy County Administrator/Emergency Management Director Bruce Heitkamp and Administrative Assistant Allison Heidebrink, were the only three stationed in the boardroom during the roughly 45-minute meeting. All votes were required to be made by roll call for the benefit of the official minutes and the press, who also dialed into the meeting.

Discussion during the short agenda was dominated not by action items, but by the county’s response efforts — both in managing staff and in emergency preparedness.

Johnson reported that there have been no issues with the public trying to get into the Nobles County Government Center since the doors were shuttered last Tuesday, and said most employees are still reporting to work.

“We’re doing pretty good supporting electronic and phone (delivery of services to the public),” he said, adding that on Monday, staff that worked in tighter quarters — particularly in the community services department — were able to spread out.

“We’re using virtually every room in the building and Stacie (Golombiecki, community services director) has met the desires of people in her department,” he added.

Johnson said he was working to draft an administrative policy regarding employee travel, with the hope that it could be implemented today. Also in the works is a “what-if” plan in the community services department if employees have to begin working from home.

“I’m so proud of all the employees — how everyone is handling this,” Johnson said. “I think everyone understands how we’re functioning, and there’s a lot of people counting on us.”

As of Tuesday morning, there remained no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nobles County, with 262 cases reported in Minnesota — including 103 cases in Hennepin County. Just 21 patients have been hospitalized for the virus thus far in the state.

Heitkamp reported that discussions have begun regarding the possibility of opening the county’s Emergency Operations Center at some point.

Board action on Tuesday included the following:

  • Acceptance of the low bid from K&M Concrete Inc., Edgerton, to replace the existing surface at the Adrian shop and pave part of the gravel lot around the new building addition. K&M presented the lowest of four bids at $226,313.

  • Authorization to purchase a used 1993 Sicard SMI Snowmaster snowblower at a cost of $115,000, which includes shipping. This is the same make and model year as the snowblower the county purchased earlier this winter. It will replace the county’s second snowblower, which is a 1969 model.

The county had budgeted $265,000 to purchase one used snowblower, and Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder noted that by finding the two Sicards, for $115,000 each, it is spending less than what was budgeted. He said a new snowblower costs approximately $750,000, and used blowers are difficult to find.

  • Authorization for Nobles County Public Works to enter into agreements with the cities of Lismore and Wilmont for bituminous surfacing projects. The cities will include their paving work on the county contract to secure lower prices, and will be billed by the county once the work is completed.

  • Acceptance of the low bid from EAPC, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for architectural, mechanical and electrical design for the county’s new data center inside the former jail on the third floor of the Nobles County Government Center’s Ninth Street entrance. The county solicited bids from two firms it has worked with in recent past on design projects, and EAPC’s bid of $32,500 was $1,775 under the second bid.

The work encompasses designing the space to include a conference room, office area, hallways, restrooms and a mechanical/HVAC room. This will follow work that is currently underway, including the floor work and completion of a secondary staircase.

  • Appointments of Jorge Lopez, Worthington, to the Nobles County Health and Human Services Advisory Committee; Kris Hohensee, Worthington, to the Travel Southwest Minnesota board; and Andrea Valeria Duarte Alonso, Worthington, to the Nobles County Library Board.

  • Tabling until further notice any action on the Heron Lake Watershed District’s request to increase its administrative levy and to seek bonding authority from the state.

  • Cancellation of the March 31 board work session.