The Ashland County Board of Commissoners meeting on Thursday morning.

ASHLAND -- Ashland County Commissioner Denny Bittle wants to know if the county can pursue legal action against Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton.

Bittle raised the issue during a commissioners' meeting Thursday, saying he and fellow commissioners have not received a response from a letter they sent to Gov. Mike DeWine more than two weeks ago.

In May 4 letter, commissioners requested the authority to reopen Ashland County at a faster pace than DeWine and Acton set for the state.

The commissioners asked permission to make decisions on reopening in Ashland County, based on a local assessment of risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think the letter obviously got their attention, and I’d like to at least look into, does the county have the ability to sue the health director of the State of Ohio to get these things open for us?” Bittle asked.

DeWine has implemented a gradual reopening plan, allowing campgrounds and indoor restaurant dine-in seating to reopen Thursday, May 21, childcare to reopen May 25 and gyms and  public pools to reopen May 26. 

The re-openings come with requirements that businesses meet safety protocols. The restrictions and protocols are uniform across Ohio, to be implemented the same way in every county. 

“They’re not paying attention to smaller counties or locals, on how they’re destroying, or trying to destroy, our county,” Bittle said. 

Though businesses are reopening, Bittle said he remains concerned about required regulations. He specifically mentioned how non-contact and limited-contact sports leagues will be allowed to reopen. Among other requirements, participants must wear face coverings at all times when not actively playing the sport

He wondered what health implications this might have for a child in a youth league, who might be asked to put on a mask after running on a hot day. 

“I’d like to take a look at seeing if we can get some of these restrictions taken off, because I think it’s a health issue for some of these youth,” Bittle said.

Neither of the other two commissioners offered a comment during the discussion. Ashland County Prosecutor Chris Tunnell, whose office legally represents commissioners, didn't attend the meeting.

On Wednesday, a Lake County judge had ruled Ohio overstepped its authority in closing gyms and fitness centers for two months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In his ruling,  Lake County Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene Lucci said Ohio law allowed Acton to isolate sick people and quarantine people exposed to illness during the incubation period for a disease, about 14 days in the case of coronavirus. 

The Lake County judge's decision comes on the heels of similar rulings by state courts in Wisconsin and Oregon.

In other news from Thursday’s meeting: 

-- Commissioners authorized that the 2020 general fund be reduced by $1,051,219.12, which is in line with the board’s earlier request that county departments with general fund line items resubmit their 2020 budgets showing a 10 percent reduction.

These reductions include layoffs and hour reductions within the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office. 

“Hopefully that will be enough that we don’t have to reduce any further, but time will tell on that,” said Commissioner Mike Welch. 

-- Commissioners announced intentions to reopen their meetings to the public on June 4. The meetings will continue to be streamed via Facebook live, too. 

-- Commissioners canceled their regular meeting planned for Tuesday, May 26. 

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