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The votes are in - Sheriff Merchant wins, Pollock narrowly beats Kruse and Spiker takes Treasurer seat

Brown County final election results were posted about 9:20 p.m. on Tuesday night with a few surprises.

With 18 out of 18 precincts reporting, the voter turnout was 42.89 percent as a total of 2,603 voters cast their ballots including 920 early ballots out of a total of 6,069 registered voters.

In highly contested races, Sheriff John Merchant secured his position against challenger Dennis Entrikin — bringing in 1,467 of the votes with Entrikin getting 756 votes.

For Brown County Treasurer, Betty “BJ” Spiker won the primary 1,331 to 793 votes for challenger Ann Olson.

In a surprise, challenger William Pollock narrowly beat incumbent Dwight Kruse 317-292 for Commissioner District 3 seat.

There are not Democratic challengers for these positions.

Also running unopposed is Lamar Shoemaker for the position of Commissioner District 2 — the seat currently held by Keith Olsen, who did not file for re-election.

In uncontested races, Dawn M. Boyles brought in 1,851 votes for County Clerk, Nellie Brockhoff 1,928 for Register of Deeds, District 22 Judge John Weingart 1,955 and Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill 1,730.

As a reminder, votes are NOT official until they are canvassed by the Brown County Commission at their next formal meeting.


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County leaves decisions on Navigating Change to school districts

After much discussion over the county’s role concerning enforcing the state’s guidelines for schools this coming academic year, the Brown County Commission voted Monday morning to allow schools to use lesser or stricter guidelines as set forth in the Kansas Department of Education’s Navigating Change.

Navigating Change is a nearly 1,100 document that was provided to school districts in July and provides guidelines for getting students back into the classrooms — a place they haven’t been since early March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier in the meeting, the county sought the advice of Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill, who recommended the commissioners seek an opinion from county health officials prior to voting. The focus of much of the discussion centered on mandates wearing masks in the schools and some district’s desires to lessen those restrictions.

Hiawatha Superintendent Lonnie Moser was present at the meeting and told commissioners that the USD 415 District intends to follow the Navigating Change guidelines as well as Governor Laura Kelly’s Executive Orders, which recommends masks age 3 through adults — with some exceptions. He said there are a “plethora of possibilities” and many gray areas in the Navigating Change guidelines with “very few absolutes.”

“Our staff is also in favor of this,” he told the commissioners.”There are some exceptions, but basically the governor’s order says to wear masks. Social distancing is hard to maintain in classrooms.”

Moser said there is also concern with masks and social distancing not only in the classrooms but with implementing food service and also busing.

Gov. Kelly also ordered that districts not go back to the classroom until after Labor Day, but a 5-5 decision by the Kansas State School Board over rode that decision and put it back in the hands of local schools. USD 415 Hiawatha decided to go back to school Sept. 2 — pushing that start date back a couple weeks to allow extra time to prepare.

USD 430 South Brown County Board President Jason Selland was also present and said his board was asking for some guidance before making any decisions. Two Horton residents — Rex Lockwood and Kendra Heinen were also present and both have expressed opinions against wearing masks at the commission meeting. Lockwood told commissioners that if they leave the decisions up to the governor, then as parents they have no say, indicating a lot of parents were against the use of masks in schools.

Essentially, Hill’s advice was that if the commissioners were going to enter an order that was less restrictive than the governor’s order requiring face masks in schools, their order should give discretion to the local school districts to impose regulations that they believe to be in the best interest of the schools.

“If the county commissioners did nothing, then the governor’s order would would remain in effect,” Hill said.

Hill’s advice also was for commissioners to take a week to allow for further input from medical professions before making a decision.

Commissioner Keith Olsen, who made the official motion for a vote, said he felt the commissioners should make a decision now and leave any decisions up to the school districts “so we are out of it.” He said the school districts had a better understanding of what their needs were and each may do something different.

Joining the commissioners via Zoom was Chastity Schumann, county health officer, and Kristina Romine, director of the Multi-County Health Department. Hiawatha Hospital John Broberg also joined via Zoom, however did not make any comment during this section of the meeting.

Schumann and Romine both affirmed they felt the school districts need to make their own decisions in following the guidelines, which recommends that if social distancing cannot be followed then masks need to be worn to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Schumann said the county can’t “over ride” the governor’s orders, but can essentially vote to let school districts decide.

Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl said he would prefer to get further input from the county attorney and think on the matter before voting.

Dwight Kruse said he worried that forcing young children to wear masks in school would be a definite challenge.

Moser agreed, but said “they do adapt.”

Commissioner Lehmkuhl said he was a little concerned that USD 430 South Brown County hadn’t made any decisions yet or received feedback from its staff concerning mask usage, but Selland said they wanted more clarity and also wanted the power to make their own decisions.

“We want that local control,” he said.

Commissioner Kruse seconded Olsen’s motion and both voted in favor. Lehmkuhl cast the lone nay vote.


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Hospital officials encourage county to reconsider mask mandates

Hospital CEO John Broberg joined the Brown County Commission meeting via Zoom conference Monday morning to provide a hospital update and also encouraged the commissioners to reconsider a mask mandate.

While Brown County COVID-19 coronavirus cases remain relatively low at 36 on Monday morning, Broberg gave several statistics that were concerning — noting there has been a 179 percent increase in the ER with patients presenting COVID symptoms.

“While waiting for the release of the vaccine, we are asking the commissioners to please join us in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 by mandating the use of face coverings in our communities in order to keep businesses thriving, schools open, our healthcare resources available and our community members healthy,” he said.

Broberg said the hospital officials felt that wearing face coverings when out in public was critical to stop the spread of COVID-19, noting “we don’t want to get back to being shut down.” He noted he was in Kansas City at a public shopping area and was pleased to see a number of people wearing masks.

He likened the wearing of face coverings to wearing seatbelts in vehicles.

“We know we wear seatbelts because it protects us,” Broberg told the commissioners. “This is along the same line.”

Broberg said the percentage of case increase was more than 100 percent increase in a month.

“How many do we have to get in order for us to wear masks?” he said.

Broberg also provided a report on COVID cases treated at the hospital, noting that at the time of the report, 24 have recovered. Several were transferred to a higher level of care at other hospitals.

“This pandemic continues to have center stage,” he said. “I continue to be so impressed with the dedication of the staff, providers and the leadership team for being flexible and agile as we continue to adjust and modify our plans to assure we keep our patients, staff and our community safe.”

The hospital has faced some staffing issues due to injury, maternity leaves and quarantining. Due to this, the hospital will be transferring COVID positive patients requiring hospitalization to St. Joseph or Topeka.

The hospital is also re-evaluating the visitation restrictions and will continue with screening for patients coming into the facility.

“We are still requiring face covering in the hospital and encouraging the community to wear a face covering as well when social distance is not possible,” Broberg said. “I appreciate the other local employers and retailers who have mandated that masks be worn in their locations, as well.”

The hospital has a mobile clinic and a COVID line, which as of last Thursday had received 1,152 calls. The mobile clinic — located at the former Searight Family Clinic building, has seen 171 patients so far in July — up 11 percent compared to June for a total of 537 since April 27.

As of July 30, hospital staff has completed 289 swabs in July and 149 tests in June for a total of 840 COVID tests, including 132 pre-procedure tests.

Broberg also shared financial reports with the commission, noting that gross revenue was up $736 compared to June and 6 percent higher than June 2019.

“With our reopening plan, beginning with surgery, most departments experienced an increase in volume over May,” he said.

The hospital is continuing to utilize stimulus funds and the Payroll Protection Fund. In addition, Hiawatha Community Hospital continues to meet with Atchison Hospital officials to collaborate with the Horton Clinic, which recently hired a fulltime nurse practitioner.

HCH also is working on tackling challenges concerning recruitment, working with the Kansas Recruitment and Retention Center to hire two physicians by July 2021 and one additional by July 2022 to replace current providers who will be retiring.

Broberg said all visitors to the hospital are screened upon entry and he doesn’t anticipate this procedure going away soon. They are recruiting two full time staff for the screening table.

“With the various departments increasing their volume, staffing of the screening table has been a challenge and we anticipate the need for the screening table in the foreseeable future,” he said.

The commissioners thanked Broberg for his report, but did not have any additional discussion concerning his request for them to reconsider face coverings.

In other business:

Motion by Keith Olsen to recommend reimbursement from Brown County SPARK to Brown County District Court for $1,101.60. Seconded by Richard Lehmkuhl. Motion carried. SPARK Motion by Keith Olsen to recommend reimbursement from Brown County SPARK to Brown County District Court for $1,101.65. Seconded by Richard Lehmkuhl. Motion carried.

Brown County Clerk, Melissa Gormley, requested a 5 minute executive session with the three commissioners and Melissa Gormley present to discuss personnel matters of non-elected personnel. Motion by Keith Olsen for a 5 minute executive session on non-elected personnel with the three Commissioners and Melissa Gormley, present to discuss personnel matters of non-elected personnel with executive session necessary to protect privacy interests. Seconded by Richard Lehmkuhl. Closed 8:49 a.m. Opened 8:54 a.m. No binding action was taken.

The commissioners approved the following SPARK reimbursements: $6,715 for the health nurse wages; Brown County District Court for $549.87 for a video system and sneeze guard.

Brown County Clerk, Melissa Gormley, reported Brown County has had 190 early voters, 626 advanced ballots have been received out of the 855 that were mailed.


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Hiawatha USD 415 welcomes new teaching staff

August has hit and while there remains many questions about the upcoming academic year, local residents can rest assured teachers are back in action and making plans along with district administrators.

USD 415 Superintendent Lonnie Moser said new teaching staff gathered Tuesday for new teacher orientation at the Hiawatha Middle School commons area. This provided room for the new staff members to spread out and maintain social distancing and several were wearing masks.

Teachers gathered in groups outside for photos of new staff per each building, spread out again to maintain social distancing.

Hiawatha Elementary

Hiawatha Elementary has several new instructors this coming academic year. Leighanna Stewart and Mikaela Lehew are new third grade teachers. Nancy Linck and Jackie Reneberg will join the fourth grade teaching staff. Jamie Van Peursem moves from her third grade teaching position to kindergarten. Also joining staff at the elementary school will be Cassie Trader, new kindergarten Special Education instructor.

Hiawatha Middle School

At the middle school, Brady Mulligan will be a new sixth grade history teacher. Crystal Willich will be a new fifth grade ELA (English/Language Arts) instructor. Whitlea Simmons will be a new HMS social worker. Teaching band will be Kylah Bateman.

Transferring from the grade school, Marissa LeMay will be a new Title reading teacher, while Kelsey Lee will join the seventh grade staff teaching FACS and Science, while Andy Runer will be moving over to teach FACS and Social Science.

Hiawatha High School

Bateman will also be joining the HHS staff as band for 9th-12th. Also at HHS, Jeremy Bittner will be a new science teacher and Hannah Hoffman will be a new math teacher. Carl Parman will be a new PE/weights instructor and Christi Waggoner will join the staff as the high school counselor. Kelly Griswold is joining the HHS staff as the new JAG-K instructor.

Teachers will be back in the buildings Aug. 12 prepping for the upcoming academic year, which has been pushed back until Sept. 2 for kindergarten, fifth and ninth students with the remaining starting Sept. 3. Online enrollment begins this week.


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Hiawatha City Commission supports masks, will not mandate

Hiawatha Hospital CEO John Broberg was present at Monday night’s meeting of the Hiawatha City Commission, and presented the commission with a request for the city to mandate the use of masks in public places where social distancing is not feasible.

The Commission discussed the proposal, but ultimately declined to move toward a mandate. Mayor Bill Collins stated his support for Broberg and the hospital, as well as for the use of masks, but said that the difficulty of enforcing a mask mandate made the proposition counterproductive.

Police Chief John Defore pitched in that a mask mandate would be a civil, rather than criminal matter, thus impossible to enforce — similar to the familiar “No shirt, no shoes, no service” signs seen in stores. He did note that a business could have anyone who violated a mask requirement on their premises charged with criminal trespass.

Broberg informed the commission that Brown County has recorded 36 cases of COVID-19. He stated that it took the county nearly two months to get to 14 cases, but that in the last month that number has grown by almost 200 percent. The hospital CEO said that the virus continues to weigh down resources at all facilities, and said that the use of masks “is not about politics — it is about science and public health.”

The request was accompanied by letters of support from Maple Heights, The Pines, Vintage Park and Heartland Realty.