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Haywood adopts new rules for electronic meetings

Of late, many businesses and individuals have been forced to re-evaluate how they do things, but municipal governments are also grappling with governing in the age of social distancing and the “stay home” orders part and parcel to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“The proposed change is to add a section to the rules of procedure, the policies and procedures of this board, to allow electronic meetings to be conducted in a case where a State of Emergency has been declared by federal, state or local government,” Haywood County Attorney Frank Queen told commissioners during a meeting April 6. 

Queen explained that the general notion of boards of commissioners is that they physically meet to carry out the business of the county, and that the process is so engrained that the county’s procedures never really anticipated a situation like this one. 

In order to continue carrying out the county’s business — especially if a commissioner or commissioners end up isolating themselves due to illness — the new procedures spell out how the county can do that without violating strict rules established by the North Carolina General Assembly in regard to quorums, serving proper public notice of meetings and giving citizens the opportunity to attend or view the meetings. 

The county is already encouraging citizens to view meetings online through a live stream at www.haywoodcountync.gov, or on local cable television stations, but one concern still unresolved is how the public would participate if the physical meetings stopped taking place. 

Normally, those wishing to address commissioners must sign up prior to the meeting and would then be given three minutes at the podium. Currently, the county is asking people to submit comments to the board’s clerk, Tracy Wells, no later than 5 p.m. on the Sunday before the Monday meetings. 

In the future, the county may opt to allow citizens to show up to the normal meeting location — the Historic Haywood Courthouse — even if commissioners aren’t there. 

Public comment would be live streamed to commissioners watching online, and the public would be able to see and hear commissioners who in turn would be streamed onto the large video screens in the board’s meeting space. 

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said during the April 6 meeting that his assumption was that the board would continue to meet in person at meetings open to the public, unless and until something changes. 

The meeting was attended by all five commissioners, as well as several county department heads and administrators. Other than two media representatives, no one from the general public was in attendance, and no public comment on any agenda item was offered.

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