County meetings will remain closed

County of Columbus

Public attendance at County Commissioners will continue to be limited to online viewing, at least for the time being.

At its July 6 meeting, the board turned down a request by Commissioner Ricky Bullard to reopen board meetings to a limited number of citizens. Bullard said he felt like the public did not have adequate access to the board, and was being prevented from asking questions about pending action.

Board meetings have been broadcast via social media since the start of the pandemic, when Gov. Roy Cooper restricted gatherings of more than 10 people. From 10 to 12 commissioners, department heads and staff are usually in attendance at meetings. County employees and department heads who must make presentations often wait outside the commissioners chambers. 

The issue came to a head during a recent budget session when a large number of sheriff’s office employees, including uniformed deputies, attempted to attend the meeting and speak during the public comments section. They were denied entry into the chambers.

Members of the public who want to speak to the board must submit comments prior to the meeting via telephone, letter or email. County Attorney Amanda Prince then reads the comments to the commissioners.

Bullard said that he felt social distancing could be maintained in the chambers, and it would be a show of good faith on the part of the board if those attending the meeting were “careful” about avoiding contact with others. He then made a motion for the board to consider allowing the public to attend in person.

Board members expressed concern that opening the meetings during the continuing pandemic could help spread the virus. They also questioned if the board could legally go against Cooper’s executive order.

Prince explained that there is a provision in Cooper’s order that allows local governments to determine their own course on opening meetings.

“You can be more strict or less strict, “ she said. “The order doesn’t technically apply to government bodies.”

Board member James Prevatte said that he felt the governor’s executive order “is the same as a law.”

Bullard and Commissioner Jerome McMillian cast the only affirmative votes. 

The next meeting is July 20 at 6:30 p.m., and may be viewed at

https://www.youtube.com/user/ColumbusMIS/videos?view=57&flow=grid .

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About Jefferson Weaver 1877 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at jeffersonweaver@ColumbusCountyNews.com.