This week the Seneca County Board of Supervisors looked at its process for fielding complaints about COVID-19 mandates issued by the state, as well as the way small businesses are dealt with compared to corporations like Walmart.
It started with Tom Murray, who leads the County’s COVID-19 response committee alongside elected and working officials in Seneca discussing a potential change to the process for dealing with businesses that violate pandemic mandates from the state.
The rule-change had apparently been agreed to in principle at Monday’s meeting of the group. However, some supervisors expressed reservation connected to the inconsistency of complaints.
It was prompted by the high-profile cases involving Sauders Store in Seneca Falls and Stoney Ridge Store in Waterloo. Sauders had received more than 50 complaints since the County reset mid-summer to synchronize with changes in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders on mask-wearing, social distancing, and capacity control. The County’s official position was that they attempted to work with both stores, but that until very recently – after the threat of court action and fines were in play – that no progress had been made.
The entire ordeal was enough to make the COVID committee in Seneca County reconsider its three-strike policy for businesses that violate the rules. Proposed during initial debate on the subject was bypassing the second step, which includes a letter being sent to the business.
Some supervisors voiced support of that change – noting that an official visit should be conducted quickly, and if a complaint is verified move forward with a plan of correction. That way if additional complaints are received, additional steps can be taken instead of waiting for a letter to be sent.
The Board opted not to make any exact changes at the Tuesday meeting, and instead granted the COVID Committee authority to make changes.
Some supervisors questioned how vigorously the County is investigating or following-up with large corporations that operate in Seneca County.
Here’s how many complaints each large, corporate retail operation has received since the restart over the summer:
Byrne Dairy: 8
Dollar General: 5
Nice n Easy: 2
Circle K: 2
Tractor Supply: 1
Express Mart: 1
The numbers were obtained from Waterloo Supervisor Mike Enslow, who shared some of that concern at the session. “We have to make sure that as a County we’re being fair,” he said at the meeting. His contention is that the County is targeting major offenders, but not as aggressively going after corporations.
County Attorney Dave Ettman said that they have had largely good working relationships with stores, employees, and managers.
That eventually led to the supervisors debating the role of low-wage workers to enforce mask guidelines when customers are inside stores. Lodi Supervisor Kyle Barnhart stated that those employees have a responsibility – no matter their wage. Seneca Falls Supervisor Mike Ferrara felt that the County should lower expectations when it comes to those workers, instead putting the pressure on local and regional management to enforce.
The Board agreed that the Committee should focus on working with local businesses no matter their size. While the Sauders violations were headed to a hearing this week for their violations – the supervisors noted that it was going to be resolved without that administrative action.