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Board of Supervisors amends controversial business regulations, telecommuting policy

Board of Supervisors amends controversial business regulations, telecommuting policy

From the May's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Cases rise, judge rules that state can keep nursing home data from public series

Owner Linda Molitor takes a customer’s takeout order at R&R Pizza Express in Marana. The amending of regulations addressed many concerns of local restaurants.

After several revisions and community feedback, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted Thursday to amend a set of controversial regulations for businesses through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the end of Arizona’s stay-home order last week, the board adopted the regulations as a way to protect employees and customers as businesses reopened. The proclamation included a variety of regulations for restaurants, gyms, pools and other facilities such as occupancy limitations, protective-equipment requirements, social-distancing protocols, daily temperature checks and the public display of signage and cleaning logs.

Since then, the county received a considerable amount of feedback from local business owners who were concerned the regulations were unnecessary and burdensome. Travis Peters, executive chef at The Parish in Tucson, told the board Thursday his restaurant was struggling through the pandemic and that it was important to find a compromise.

“You guys have a terrible job right now. But I hope that we can meet in the middle, that you can hear our voices and make it easier for us to survive through this,” he said.

In a 3-2 vote, the board adopted several changes to the regulations, including no longer requiring restaurants to have call-ahead reservation systems, no longer requiring workers to determine if a customer is ill with COVID-19 and no longer requiring that businesses post their cleaning logs. The amendments address many of the concerns brought by the Arizona Restaurant Association and the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild.

Even as Pima County moves forward with these amendments, the proclamation is still being investigated by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office after some claimed the regulations are a violation of Ducey’s latest executive order, which forbids counties, cities and towns from making rules and regulations inconsistent with those issued by the governor. The county attorney has until 2 p.m. Friday to respond to the allegations.

Supervisor Steve Christy stayed consistent Thursday in his stance against the regulations, saying they only add additional stress and uncertainty to businesses during a difficult time. “Until we get a determination from the attorney general, all of this means nothing,” Christy said. “It is imperative that this board cease and desist trying to come up with its own regulations until that determination is made.”

Telecommuting

During Thursday’s emergency meeting, the board also approved several changes to the county’s telecommuting policy for employees.

In a May 4 memo, county administrator Chuck Huckelberry said all telecommuting county staff must return to work once the stay-at-home order was lifted May 15. Starting in March, approximately 1,500 county employees began telecommuting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a workforce of over 7,000, the majority of county workers are deemed essential and are unable to work remotely.

After receiving complaints from county employees that workers were being required to return to work too soon, Huckelberry clarified that county employees who wish to continue telecommuting can do so as long as they meet the required criteria, which includes having a compromising medical condition, having a family household member with a compromising medical condition, have school-aged children affected by school or day-care closures and being over 65 years of age.

Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who brought the suggested telecommuting amendments to the board, accused Huckelberry of “hating telecommuting” and said they have to do better to keep employees safe.

“I think we’re being way too punitive with telecommuting and I’m very disappointed,” she said.

In addition, Supervisor Betty Villegas said she has heard from county employees who have been denied the opportunity to telecommute, without reason, and who don’t have access to an appeal process.

Based on these concerns, the board added an appeal process to the policy, saying the initial telecommuting request should go through the employee’s supervisor and human resources. If the request is denied and an appeal should be filed, the county administrator will present his decision to the board, who will have the authority to overturn if necessary.

In addition to other changes, the board also added language stating that employees who are not telecommuting will be provided with masks and other necessary protective equipment.

In the midst of the pandemic, Huckelberry said the county had to produce a telecommuting policy rather quickly and did not necessarily have the infrastructure in place to make it happen smoothly. In addition to the added expense of refurbishing over 300 computers for employees to work from home, the county is also seeing an increase of $13,000 per month for employee cell phone usage.

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers

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