The Kennebec County Courthouse on Tuesday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Kennebec County officials are starting to consider how and when to open up their offices to the public as more people across the state are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 — but they aren’t ready to open completely.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said Tuesday at a workshop meeting of the county commissioners that now she would like to be able to have people enter the historic Kennebec County Courthouse’s front doors, come into the vestibule area and make restitution payments or conduct any other business.

Access to that area is controlled by a Plexiglas barrier.

“It’s a lot more likely that we’re actually going to have compliance if people can come in person and actually comply,” Maloney said. “It’s a safe situation, because of the plexiglass, and we all (wear) masks in all common areas.”

Because the District Attorney’s Office and the Probate Court have different entrances, Maloney said they could each be used to control access to the building.

Register of Probate Kathleen Ayers is eyeing a June 1 opening date to the public for walk-in service.

But, Ayers said, she doesn’t think the building can be partially opened in the meantime because neither of the two entrances is handicapped accessible. The accessible entrance requires the use of the building’s elevator, which opens into the hallway of the District Attorney’s Office.

That could bring people into contact with DA office staff who also use that hallway. Members of the public using that hallway may violate social distancing requirements.

Across county government, access by the public to offices and facilities has been limited for more than a year. Entrance to Hill House, the building that houses most administrative functions of county government, with the exception of the Registry of Deeds, the county jail, the District Attorney’s Office and Probate, has been limited.

For the last 14 months, Kennebec County commissioners’ meetings have taken place virtually, with the exception of several weeks last summer when socially distanced in-person meetings took place in the large conference room on the first floor.

Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said the current system of having members of the public check in at the entrance to the sheriff’s office to be admitted to the county building is working. He expects a decision about opening up the building to the public could be made later this month.

Even as more vaccinations are being administered, Devlin said, the rate of administration is slowing down. The demographics of the vaccinations are also weighted toward the older age groups.

“We’re not out the woods yet,” Devlin said.

Ayers said currently, only two members of the public are allowed in the Probate clerk’s office at a time — and by appointment only. Probate hearings have taken place via Zoom.

To open up to hybrid or in-person hearings, Ayers said, the flow of people has to be managed, particularly if a case in Probate Court requires a lot of witnesses who would have to be sequestered in a place where others won’t be walking through. Anyone who needs a handicapped access to the building is asked to give advanced notice.

“The reason we’re shooting for June is because our people would all be vaccinated for June,” Ayers said. “We’ve already sent out notices that we’re having Zoom hearings through May.”

In the meantime, she said she’s concerned that people would have to observe two sets of rules for access, and she’s concerned that employees at the District Attorney’s Office have to spend time allowing people access to the Probate offices through the secured area.

“We’re not at a place where we want people walking through the building like we used to,” Maloney said, “but I think we have created a very safe situation with the plexiglass, and it increases our ability to serve people if we do it in a safe way.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.