SUPERVISORS: County attorney shares concerns on ‘unconstitutional abuse of power’
By Rick Morain
Thomas Laehn has concerns with a federal vaccine mandate, which could potentially lead to his resignation.
The Greene County attorney on Monday briefed the Greene County Board of Supervisors on the federal COVID-19 vaccination, mask and testing mandate for entities with more than 100 employees. Laehn said the mandate would probably apply to Greene County government.
He considers the mandate “an absolutely unconstitutional abuse of power” and a “violation of several constitutional provisions.”
He called it “egregious.”
Laehn said if the federal rule is not stayed or overturned by the courts by Dec. 4, he would have to resign as Greene County Attorney because he would refuse to follow it as the employer of his staff or else force the county to pay an “exorbitant” fine, which would be $13,653 per violation.
“I’m personally outraged by this,” Laehn said. The federal rule, he said, would bankrupt a county or state. He said the issue is not partisan; he would object the same way whether the federal administration were Democrat or Republican.
Laehn added that he wasn’t judging whether the rule, to be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was a good or bad idea per se. He wasn’t making a statement about the advisability of vaccination, mask and testing mandates in and of themselves. In his opinion, the state of Iowa has the legitimate power to enact an identical law.
His objection is to what he called “the federal overreach.”
The federal rule requires unvaccinated employees of organizations affected by the rule to wear a mask starting Dec. 5. Then by Jan. 4, those employees must show either proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID testing and wear a mask at work.
One of the nation’s court of appeals districts in the south has already issued a stay of the rule, Laehn noted. However, that stay covers only the states in that district.
Laehn said a county would be within its rights to bring a lawsuit against the federal rule. In response, board chair John Muir said he would prefer that Laehn not spend his time in a lawsuit against the federal government, given how busy he is with other matters.
The bottom line, Laehn said, is that by Dec. 5 the county needs to know who among its employees is vaccinated against COVID-19. Unvaccinated employees risk being removed from their employment, he said.
He added that he’s not sure how Iowa’s recent lawsuit against the federal mandate, filed in conjunction with several other states, interacts with the federal rule, but a state law cannot overrule a federal law, he noted.
On another matter, the board by resolution created a seven-member Greene County jail advisory committee composed of Sheriff Jack Williams, county attorney Laehn, county supervisor Dawn Rudolph, Scott Weber, Anthony Minnehan, Johnathan Marshall, and former Sheriff Tom Heater.
Additional members may be appointed by a majority vote of the committee, up to a total membership of 10. The committee must terminate on or before Dec. 31, 2022.
The committee is to gather data about the current jail, make recommendations to the supervisors about its future, and keep the public informed about the board’s relevant actions.
Iowa’s chief jail inspector, Delbert Longley, at his July 22 visit to the county jail, found that proper operation “as required by Iowa jail standards is nearly impossible due to the structural design of the facility.”
Laehn has also informed the supervisors that the current jail’s capacity is too small to house the number of defendants sentenced to jail terms.
The board also appointed Peg Gannon to the Greene County Conservation Board. She had been recommended by the conservation board from an applicant list of six to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Kenan.
Conservation director Tanner Scheuermann introduced Gannon to the supervisors. Gannon said that she agreed with him that some conservation installations need updating, and she wants county residents to know what is available to them. She noted the importance of a clean outdoor environment.
Sid Jones, President of the Greene County Development Corporation (GCDC), briefed the board on GCDC’s consideration of a diversity project. The group is looking at facilitating the development of a Latino workforce to fill available jobs in the county. GCDC will bring project consultant Carlos Arguello to the supervisor meeting Nov. 22 to discuss an operating plan for the project.
The board accepted county recorder Deb McDonald’s report of fees for October.
A Class C native wine permit for Deal’s Orchard was approved.
The board approved the Iowa Department of Transportation certificate of completion and final acceptance of work for the bike trail signage project.
Homestead credit and military exemption disallowances were approved as submitted.
Jefferson city administrator Mike Palmer updated the board on the status of plans and work performed for the animal shelter, sewer plant upgrade, airport, downtown buildings and east entryway to Jefferson.