How to approach a board meeting is something that districts should be considering during this time. While it’s important to consider if a meeting is really necessary, it is recognized that, especially in the early stages of navigating the coronavirus pandemic, there may be instances where official business may need to be conducted. Many districts are implementing options to minimize risk during board meetings, including (but not limited to):
Since March, proclamations have been in effect related to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act. The most recent proclamation (issued December 8, 2020) is in effect through January 19, 2021 and included changes related to in-person meeting options that differ from previous proclamations. According to the MRSC, "The immediate effect of these changes is that no in-person public meeting option is currently available anywhere in the state..." This relates to the heightened restrictions and prohibition on in-person public meetings through at least January 11, 2021 from the Stay Safe, Stay Healthy proclamation (extended on December 30, 2020). Conservation districts are encouraged to read the entire MRSC blog on this topic for further guidance.
On March 26, the Attorney General’s office issued updated guidance around adherence to the OPMA and Public Records Act during the COVID 19 outbreak.
Now that CDs are much more active in conducting virtual work and utilizing social media as a tool in the box, now is a good time to discuss public records and social media. Washington State Archives and MRSC have some helpful resources to help you determine what is a public record and other considerations when using social media to conduct business. WA State Archives describes a public record as “anything that is created in connection with the transaction of public business, regardless of format.” Please refer to the draft District Operations Brief – Managing Social Media Public Records we have just developed that includes much more detail on this topic.
You can find more information at the links listed below, which are also provided in the brief.From WA State Archives:
There are a number of Records Management Training Webinars for a refresher on the basics From MRSC:
Also, don’t forget that SCC has published a Social Media Best Practices and Examples resource in the CD Marketing Toolkit (see Social Media tab), which includes a sample social media policy.
The Washington State Archives recently issued guidance about retaining records pertaining to COVID-19 response. In general the following types of records must be retained:
Please don’t forget that emails are public records and any emails pertaining to COVID-19 response will fall under this guidance as well. The guidance states that these records must be retained for six years and then transferred to the WA State Archives for further retention.
The Governor announced Construction Restart COVID-19 Job Site Requirements on April 24, which directly impacts contractors that conservation districts may be working with and includes a requirement for CDs to collect a COVID-19 Protection Plan from those contractors and keep that Plan in the district’s records:
“State agencies can continue to provide pass-through or grant funding to non-state project sponsors as provided in the capital and transportation budgets; however, grant recipients must require their contractors to comply with the Phase 1 requirements.”
CDs working with contractors should provide the Phase 1 Construction Restart COVID 19 Job Site Requirements document in a notice to contractors and then require a copy of the contractor’s COVID-19 Protection Plan for the project file before further work goes forward. The CD should not “approve” the content of a contractor’s Plan.
Also, if a CD is doing work directly in the field with their own staff, the CD should document the measures they are taking to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus in a CD-specific COVID-19 Protection Plan and ensure those measures are followed by staff.
The Board may approve the preparation of the next two months’ checks to pay customary, monthly bills (e.g. phone, printer/copier, office rent, and health care insurance) and payroll. If there’s any variance between projected expenses and actual, adjustments can be made subsequently. District staff could then prepare checks ahead of time so they can be ready for release at the time due. We suggest ensuring the approval and approved date to pay (release the checks) is clearly documented. The district is still responsible for ensuring the amount ultimately paid is accurate, supported, and for an allowable purpose.
For payroll, it may be acceptable to estimate employee pay based on expected hours, as long as it’s reconciled to the actual hours worked and adjusted as needed in the next payroll cycle, when possible. It’s also recommended that the district have a written policy for this procedure that includes estimating hours worked, leave usage, adjustments based on actual hours, recovery if the employees leaves the district, etc.
Securing two authorized signatures on district-issued checks is a highly encouraged best practice and internal control, but it’s not required by the State Conservation Commission nor the State Auditor’s Office. Each district needs to ensure that their bank does not require two signatures on checks and that district policy is followed. If a district chooses to suspend the two-signature practice during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s highly encouraged that districts return to this best practice once the crisis has passed and perform additional scrutiny on all district financial transactions in the meantime.
Proclamation 20-28 temporarily suspends certain requirements of the Public Records Act including the requirement to respond to a public records request within five days. However, agencies are still expected to respond promptly to the greatest extent possible. Districts are encouraged to review the full proclamation for more detail.
Yes, for the purposes of submitting CD employee timesheets to the SCC along with a voucher for any of our grants, there are alternate processes available to securing handwritten signatures. The alternative that will work best for your district depends on what tools you have available to you and your employees. Please work with your Regional Manager to determine the best alternate method for your district.
There are a range of options to consider to temporarily reduce or eliminate the need for physical signatures from supervisors. Each can reduce controls and increase the risk of fraud. CDs should carefully weigh the different risks associated with each option. Your Regional Manager can assist with this analysis.
If any of these measures are adopted, they can be revoked when the current emergency has passed or at any time the board chooses. It’s strongly recommended that the board increase oversight by carefully reviewing bank and credit card statements, along with all financial documents during this period to mitigate the risk of error and fraud. For assistance with questions or selecting alternatives to physical signatures, please contact your Regional Manager.
Yes, please consider tracking any costs that you incur as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Having an estimate of costs and impacts will be important in the event that financial relief programs become available.