County June 29, 2020

County commissioners meet in person Monday and listen via live vido to David Adams, the Riley County EMS/Ambulance director. Adams said that there was no concerted effort to hide the fact that members of his department had tested positive for COVID-19 from the public.

Riley County EMS director David Adams on Monday morning acknowledged he could have released information about a COVID-19 outbreak in his department on Friday, but he defended his decision not to reveal news immediately.

Two more EMS staffers have tested positive since Saturday, bringing the total to eight.

Adams learned of the first case in his department on Tuesday or Wednesday, he said. Speaking over video stream to the in-person Riley County commission Monday, Adams said he had been made aware of three new cases in his department Friday afternoon, less than an hour before he had been scheduled to appear on the 4:15 p.m. COVID-19 press conference.

That was different than what he told The Mercury Saturday evening; he said then he had been made aware of those cases “about this time Friday.” The Mercury reported the first six positive cases in EMS in Sunday’s edition.

Adams spoke during the press conference, answering a question about ambulance sanitation practices, but didn’t mention the outbreak.

It was not clear who had asked the question.

No one came to work sick, Adams said, and the department has tested 25 employees, with two or three tests still pending. The department is also contact-tracing anyone who may have come in contact with one of two staffers with whom the virus originated in the department. He said the department followed its COVID-19 plan, which it developed with the Riley County Health Department, “to a T.”

“We think we have a pretty good handle on it now,” he said.

Adams’ presence at the press conference was unusual. He said he had been scheduled to appear on the Friday afternoon press conference since Wednesday, and he decided not to reveal the cases then since he didn’t have many details. The Mercury broke the story of the department’s COVID-19 cases on Sunday morning, and the Riley County emergency operations center later released more details on the cases that afternoon.

In hindsight, Adams said he recognizes he could have maybe released information Friday.

“Please, I mean this when I say this wasn’t a conspiracy,” Adams said.

But Adams was later rebuffed by KayLee Proctor, a former EMS worker and wife to a current employee. Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, Proctor accused Adams of lying and said that her husband and other department staff members knew that at least five employees were infected with coronavirus on Thursday.

“I knew about it on Thursday, and so did he,” she said. “So which is it? Did you take precautions and still spread the virus to other employees or did you try to cover this up? Or are you expecting the public to be held to a higher standard than yourself?”

Other public comment speakers, including commission candidate Fanny Fang and local Black Lives Matter leader Theresa Parks, also lashed out at the commission for what they called the commission’s inaction and silence on recent issues like requiring masks and racism.

Commission chairman Marvin Rodriguez said that while he felt the speakers’ frustrations, he did not believe the commission could constitutionally require the public to wear masks in public.

Commissioner John Ford said he was extremely concerned after hearing about some race-related incidents, including a K-State student’s post on Twitter that drew backlash from K-State athletes. He said he personally wanted to be more proactive on those kinds of discussions.

In other business

Riley County Police Department Capt. Josh Kyle presented the commission with its updated proposal for a $444,000 Aggieville substation. RCPD officials are looking to relocate their existing substation into the $14 million parking garage the Manhattan city government is building south of Rally House.

Kyle said the department’s existing space in the business district, which it has used since 1993, no longer adequately meets police needs for a high traffic area like Aggieville. He said officers need more space to hold private interviews and evidence, as well as a more secure location that could protect the station from gunfire.

The proposal would create a 4,100 square foot substation at the parking garage’s ground level.

Additionally, Kyle said RCPD is looking to build a $222,000 adjacent training room. The department’s existing training room at the police headquarters no longer fits the department’s size. By creating an Aggieville training room, the department could vacate the existing room and expand the communications center.

The county would pay the city for the cost of constructing the space over the life of the parking garage’s 20 years of debt service, and assistant city manager Jason Hilgers estimated that the county would pay roughly $50,000 over the 20 years to repay the city’s costs of building the substation.

Commissioners were hesitant to immediately approve the project and instructed county staff and Hilgers to develop more specific details on those costs.

The commission approved a request to increase the solid waste transfer station’s fees to $55 per ton, with a minimum charge of $13.75, starting Sept. 1. That’s up from $50 per ton and a minimum charge of $12.50. Tire disposal prices will also increase to $4 per small tire, $8 for medium tires and $17 for large tires, with an added $5 fee if the tires are still mounted.

Assistant county engineer Gary Rosewicz said the county’s commercial waste processors indicated they prefer larger increases every few years rather than steady increases annually.

County clerk Rich Vargo said he’s encouraging the public to continue filling out and completing advance ballot applications, of which the county has already received over 5,000. The county will send start sending those ballots out by mail on July 15, which is also when in-person advance voting starts.

Vargo said he’s trying to find a replacement polling site for the Manhattan Fire Department on Denison, since the fire department estimates it will continue needing it for the county’s COVID-19 emergency operations center.

The fire department site is a prominent polling location, and while Vargo said he might be able to relocate voters to other nearby sites, he encouraged members of the public to vote by mail instead.