The Sylva Herald, By Beth Lawrence 

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is considering new rules for conducting meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The topic was introduced to the board by county Manager Don Adams at the July 14 work session. Adams and commissioners have received feedback and requests from community members to attend meetings in person and people who are not happy with Zoom meetings or are not able to attend via Zoom.

“Obviously since the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all had to readjust how we operate,” Adams said. “As the community has opened up, we’ve also started getting more requests for people to physically show up.”

Some members of the public are unhappy with not being allowed to address commissioners directly during public comment periods.

“We’re highly encouraging people to Zoom,” Adams said. “At no point have we flat out told people they’re not allowed to come physically here.”

The state is still under Phase II of its reopening plan limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people. Most of the commissioners attend in person along with Adams and staff, leaving little room for the public.

During public comments from supporters of the Confederate memorial 15 people were present. The overflow room was at maximum capacity, and there was an issue with people waiting to speak gathering around the door attempting to see other speakers, Adams said.

“If we start having 30 or 40 or 50 people show up; then that starts presenting a logistics issue for staff,” Adams said. “What I mean by logistical issues is enforcement, enforcement of spacing, enforcement of wearing masks.”

The board is considering allowing one person at a time into the boardroom during public comment and having a deputy on hand to enforce public safety measures.

Adams also asked the board whether it would like to begin recording meetings to share on social media or livestreaming meetings.

A number of residents have asked Commissioner Ron Mau if meetings were being recorded leading him to ask Adams to look into the issue.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Why do we have to go through the process of sending an email; why isn’t there just a link that’s posted on the county website,’” Mau said. “Our church Facebook livestreams everything, and I can just go click on it on Sunday morning and watch it. Why can’t we have the county do something like that?

“Everybody’s getting used to a different way of doing things. Some people have said even when COVID’s gone why can’t the county keep doing that, so they have the option to watch the meeting.”

If the board decides to do either, the county would have to add the cost of video equipment to previously planned upgrades to the sound system in the commissioners’ boardroom.

“IT had gone out and started putting together quotes about updating our microphones and things of that nature,” Adams said. “If the board wishes to record and eventually post these videos online, then I would recommend that we go above and beyond this small camera that’s sitting right here.”

The cost of adding a camera to the audio upgrades could be between $5,000 and $10,000. 

A policy would have to address how long video will be maintained and where it would be shared, Adams said.

Board Chair Brian McMahan thought upgrading camera equipment was a good idea as well as including elements in the policy that address other issues the board has experienced with Zoom meetings such as department members speaking off-camera and not being able to identify speakers.