Next month to see return of in-person comments at commission meetings

Crowd at Feb. 4 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners
BACK IN THE DAY: A full crowd waits to speak about the Second Amendment at the Feb. 4, 2020 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners shortly before the coronavirus pandemic forced commissioners to change public comment to a virtual format. Photo by Daniel Walton

Beginning with the Tuesday, May 4, meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, in-person public comments will return to the county board’s twice-monthly gatherings. The change came with a unanimous vote at the board’s April 6 meeting. 

Current policy allows members of the public to comment through live telephone calls only; no in-person comments, emails or voicemails are accepted.

The new plan, developed by county staff, will include a hybrid model that will allow residents to either call in or attend commission meetings in person. But the choice of format will be temporary, lasting only until the public health situation permits a return to the pre-pandemic business as usual, which only allowed in-person comments.

The new plan will reserve 10 seats for the public in the county chamber, with room 310 providing overflow space. Room 330 will be reserved for staff and presenters until their agenda item is presented. A mask mandate and social distancing will be enforced during the meetings. 

Commissioner Robert Pressley noted that people wishing to attend the meetings in person should continue to sign up online or by calling 828-250-4001 by Monday before the meetings by 3 p.m. 

“That gives them 24 hours to know if they’re in town or going to be able to do it, or whether they’ve got anything they want to talk about,” he said. 

Commenters who wish to call in to the meetings will follow the same procedure. All commenters will have three minutes to address the board.

Commission Chair Brownie Newman said that the public comment policy will shift entirely to in-person starting in June, eliminating the option for the public to call in to the meetings.

County Manager Avril Pinder added that the public comment protocol should be subject to change based on recommendations from local public health officials. “As we look at the metrics that Stacie [Saunders] comes in [with] every week, I would want to make sure that if they have a recommendation that we do anything differently then that’s what we would follow, using public health guidance as well,” she said. 

The next public meeting of the county board is scheduled for Tuesday, April 20, at 5 p.m. Public comment will only be accepted through live telephone calls at the start of the meeting.


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