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Electronic meeting problems resurface

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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It’s been eight months since the Washington County Commission had to consider how best to conduct its meetings electronically in light of the pandemic. And now, that consideration is at the forefront once again.

At the commission’s Monday, Sept. 28, meeting, the county discussed some of the issues it has experienced with its livestreamed meetings, which, for Commissioner Freddie Malone, warrants concern.

“We had somebody turned away tonight, a public citizen of Washington County that wanted to attend the meeting and called me earlier today,” Malone said. “I sent them home saying, ‘You can watch it on YouTube.’ Then I get a text from them saying, ‘I can’t watch it on YouTube.’ 

“I just worry about this meeting essentially having taken place in private. We did have a member of the media here for a portion of the meeting. I know this is going to be posted out to social media after the fact, but I have sat here thinking about the fact this meeting has taken place mostly in private. And that worries me.”

One of the county’s issues regarding electronic meetings include the inability to always have a live recording streamed via YouTube.

“We sometimes can’t get YouTube to let us stream, so we end up having to record and post it later,” Commissioner Jodi Jones said. “That seems like a county YouTube channel problem.”

Todd Hensley, who owns and operates Appalachian Light and Production, said at the meeting an issue also lies within the internet connection at the justice center. 

“It is very easy to livestream a meeting even with multiple cameras,” Hensley said, “but you can’t do it relying on the WiFi signal which is what we’ve tried to do here. What further complicates that in this room is your roll call system … and then you have the phones in that same (radio frequency) band, it just won’t work in a low-power situation. To livestream an event such as this, you hardwire it.”

The county has also experienced faulty audio in recent weeks, which has made it difficult for those tuning in electronically to hear the meeting. That prompted Chairman Greg Matherly to suggest the county return to meetings via Zoom.

“A sure way to correct the audio is to go back to zoom,” Matherly said. (County Attorney Allyson Wilkinson) had talked about that several times. That does meet the threshold (for meetings conducted electronically).”

As for in person meetings, Matherly also said that gets complicated when having to decide who can attend meetings due to current capacity restrictions in the courthouse.

“We want to be accommodating as much as we possibly can,” Matherly said. “One of the things is who do you say can and cannot come? We have officials, we have people here that have agenda business, but other than that, it’s livestream. It’s definitely hard. Each month there are hard decisions to make as far as that goes. Even just today, I had several inquiries.”

Though no decision was made regarding the county’s future meetings, the commission unanimously decided to put $100,000 towards the county’s environmental cleanup efforts. 

The amount will go towards current and future cleanups in addition to the $15,000 the commission had previously earmarked.

“There was already $15,000,” Jones said. “This is an additional $100,000. It’s meant to cover those properties but also provide funding for the current fiscal year for cleanups going forward.”

The commission also discussed having a workshop with the Washington County Board of Education to discuss school priorities and projects and for the two newest members of the school board, and its newly elected chairman, to talk with the commission. That meeting is tentatively set for Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. at the McKinney Center.