Even as Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners consider possible public hearings into a backlog of some 200 cases, they were told Wednesday that 9 employees of the agency are being monitored for COVID-19.
The Commission’s Jim Thorpe headquarters building at the State Capitol has been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic but commissioners on Wednesday focused on their concerns of the growing backlog of hearings and cases.
“We have some 200 cases we cannot address because they’re contested and they have to be in person,” said Todd Hiett, chairman of the 3-member commission.
During a lengthy discussion of a COVID-19 update, he made it clear, he did not want to open the entire Jim Thorpe headquarters to the public.
“No, I do not think we should open the building,” declared Hiett. “But if we hold open hearings, they will have to follow the rules. If they can’t, we won’t be able to hear their case.”
Under his recommendations, temperatures of those attending hearings would be taken at the door, no congestion would be allowed on the building elevators and glass partitions or screens would be installed in front of tables and lecterns in the Corporation Commission courtroom.
“Everyone will wear masks,” he stated, adding the backlog of critical energy cases is growing. “It is not responsible to let those 200 cases just sit there. We have the responsibility to get those cases heard.”
Only those directly involved in the hearings would be allowed to attend in-person at the Commission courtroom and they would have to make an appointment to do so.
(Workers installing glass partitions in one building)
Commissioner Bob Anthony agreed but also shared the concern over COVID-19 exposure.
“We should not do anything to jeopardize the staff because this is very, very serious. We need to be four times as vigilant as we should.”
However, Commissioner Hiett says the Commission has acted properly in keeping the headquarters closed to the public.
“In hindsight, we’ve done it right.”
Commissioner Dana Murphy agreed. “We’ve been open minded but thoughtful in making sure the employees are not at risk.”
Tim Rhodes, Director of Administration provided the COVID-19 update, explaining the Commission has been able to work remotely and still take care of business.
“It’s working. The steps are working. Are we 100% efficient? No, we’re not but we’re working on areas of inefficiency.”
Rhodes said the Commission is still handling remote payments and working to enhance more payments via credit cards and creating a secure website for those kinds of payments.
Commissioners might take a vote at a meeting next week to extend the COVID-19 order keeping the headquarters building closed for another 60 days. The current order expires July 22.