In Asheville and Buncombe County, the return to in-person government meetings has also meant a return to in-person public comment — and the end of live remote comment, despite there being no technological obstacle to continuing the practice. The decision has drawn concern from citizens who say it reduces their ability for civic participation.
In a change from previous City Council practice, and in opposition to advice provided by a UNC School of Government expert on open meetings, Asheville City Council plans to go ahead with a closed-door meeting devoted to “strengthening personal relationships, teamwork and communication required to do meaningful work together” on Wednesday, March 31.
The COVID-19 health crisis created logistical challenges, but it didn’t change the state’s law requiring public access to government meetings. Some local governments have taken unlawful shortcuts.
At it’s June 8 meeting, Asheville City Council:
• endorsed a state bill that would allow the option of public financing of elections and
• approved enforcement rules and penalties for its new stormwater-plan, voting to require undisturbed 30-foot stream buffers while not approving the requirement of larger buffers.
Four Council members may have violated North Carolina’s open meetings law when they met at Pack’s Tavern after the Council session. State law considers any gathering of a quorum of elected officials to be an official meeting. Council member Esther Mannheimer said that the gathering was purely social and therefore would not be a violation of that law.