County and city officials faced with the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic are trying hard to avoid a total government shutdown in Lebanon County while still protecting employees and the public.

At a Monday afternoon meeting of all Lebanon County department heads, plus President Judge John C. Tylwalk and City of Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello, County Commissioner Bob Phillips announced that public access to the Municipal Building and all county satellite facilities will be severely limited starting Mar. 17 and extending to midnight on Mar. 30.

Mayor Capello said that City offices, which share the Municipal Building with the county, will operate under the same restrictions.

The same goes for the local Court of Common Pleas, which is housed in the Municipal Building, Judge Tylwalk said.

City and County offices, plus the local Common Pleas Court will remain open, and healthy employees will be required to report to work. Phillips said county offices will do their best to serve the public remotely via email, phone, and U.S. mail.

Compared to other counties in Central Pennsylvania, Lebanon County offices and courts do not have extensive online filing and document retrieval capabilities.

Phillips emphasized that the commissioners will be constantly re-evaluating the decision, leaving the door open to longer, shorter, or modified restrictions.

“We’re doing what we can to protect our employees and the general public, not out of a sense of being alarmist,” Phillips said. “It’s not about that, but about an abundance of a concern for safety.”

Phillips, flanked by fellow commissioners Bill Ames and Jo Ellen Litz, said that the restrictions on public access are an attempt to avoid a total shutdown of government operations while the coronavirus pandemic runs its course.

The front and side entrances to the Municipal Building will be closed, and members of the public with essential business will be required to enter through the rear doors off the main parking lot. There, they will be screened by Sheriff’s deputies who will ask questions and look for visitors who appear visibly ill. Visitors’ temperatures will not be taken, said Sheriff Bruce Klingler.

Other county facilities and buildings, such as the Mental Health / Intellectual Disabilities / Early Intervention Program on East Lehman Street will have similar restrictions.

President Judge Tylwalk pointed out that the courts have to always be open, and that the rights of parties, victims, and accused individuals aren’t erased by public health emergencies.

Based on a statewide judicial emergency declared by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he said that he will issue an order designed to allow delays of non-essential court proceedings, extensions of certain deadlines, and remote transaction of court business where practical.

Tylwalk also said that deadlines to file papers at the courthouse that fall between now and Mar. 30 will be extended where necessary. Online filing of court papers is not available in Lebanon County.

Finally, Tylwalk said that certain cases will require in-person hearings to be held in courtrooms. For those, basic coronavirus sanitation and social distancing practices will be enforced, non-party observers may be restricted, and the Sheriff will screen courtroom entrants in the same way building entrants will be screened.

All of the officials present at Monday afternoon’s department head meeting stressed that COVID-19 has put them in uncharted territory, and that they will be continually reviewing their policies and changing them when necessary.

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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...


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