At Tuesday’s meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, the discussion turned to correspondence the commissioners have received requesting the county board unilaterally open businesses in Wright County.
Commissioner Darek Vetsch explained that he shares the frustration that so many feel about the toll taken on many businesses that have closed completely for six weeks or reduced to minimal work capacity. But, he added that the Executive Order signed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz in March – that remains in effect – prohibits counties from “going rogue” and creating their own laws.
“I’ve received some calls and emails about trying to open businesses in the county,” Vetsch said. “At the county level, we have no control over your restaurants and businesses opening. I’ve gotten a number of emails from people asking why we are following the governor’s orders. I can’t change the governor’s orders. What I would tell you would mean nothing and you would still breaking a state law whether we passed some resolution or not.”
The county has the ability to open specific operations to the public – an example being the Compost & Recycling Facility. It was determined that social distancing could be observed and business could be conducted with minor “no contact” modifications.
However, when it comes to going out on its own, whether it’s with opening facilities or allowing businesses to open, state law supersedes local ordinances. It’s the explanation why driver’s licenses haven’t been able to be renewed. The photos required for the license are not available because the Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles is closed under the stay at home order. With the state shutting down its operations, it leaves counties powerless to act on their own in many situations.
“We have discretion to open up pieces of operations within the county that the state would allow us to,” Vetsch said. “There are a number of things that we could or could not open up that, even if we opened it up, we wouldn’t be able to facilitate business because the state isn’t available to us. That’s where our discussion is. Yes, we do have some discretion to open up certain windows, but there are a lot of limitations because access to the state programs are shut down due to this shelter in place order.”
The frustration among business owners and individuals forced to shelter in place is growing, but so are the numbers of cases and deaths involved with COVID-19. Until those change, Gov. Walz is likely to keep the stay at home order and social distancing guidelines in place – and there is nothing Wright County can do to change it or come up with its own guidelines for reopening the economy.