Gloucester and Mathews are moving forward with holding electronic meetings to conduct essential county business as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shut down almost everything else.
The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors will hold its first electronic meeting on Tuesday. During this meeting, the board will consider only items directly associated with the emergency declaration and measures that need to be taken to sustain the essential business of the county government, according to a county release.
The meeting will be advertised and the board packet will be published in advance, as usual. The public can view the meeting (streaming live and/or recorded) by visiting www.gloucesterva.info/640/Meeting-Portal, or by watching on Cox Cable Channel 48.
Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m. The agenda for the e-meeting is quite short. The first item to be considered will be acknowledging and confirming the declaration of local emergency and providing for the continuity of government. The second item will be consideration and adoption of a revised meeting schedule. At that time, they will set a time and date for public hearings on the budget and accompanying tax rates.
Gloucester supervisors had previously cancelled public hearings on the budget and accompanying tax rate, originally scheduled for March 25. Those hearings will be rescheduled to a later date, which will be advertised in local media outlets and announced through the county’s website and social media.
Additionally, the board’s budget work session, tentatively scheduled for April 1, will not be held. Dates for additional budget work sessions will be determined during the coming weeks. Those dates will also be fully advertised.
For future meetings, instructions will be posted on how citizens can engage in public comment by alternate means including electronic forms, telephone/voicemail or U.S. mail. Guidance on how the public can submit comment for future meetings will be forthcoming in a future Public Service Announcement, included in the advertisement for public meetings/hearings, and announced through the county’s website and social media outlets.
Mathews County staff members are working on a platform that will allow the board of supervisors to have electronic meetings so that the budget process can move forward in spite of the continued closure of county offices due to the coronavirus emergency. This includes possibly holding a public hearing on the budget on the scheduled date.
Staff members working on the issue have already had test electronic meetings on the Zoom platform with one or two county supervisors at a time, said county administrator Mindy Conner, and they’re now working on a way to livestream such meetings. They also intend to make sure the public can participate in the meetings, including by telephone or email or even in person, she said.
One possible scenario would be having three board members actually meet in person in the courthouse, with two additional members meeting online. There could be staff members participating remotely, as well, with possibly one or two in the audience area of the courthouse. Members of the public could be allowed into the meeting space in numbers that would ensure no more than 10 people were in the courthouse at one time.
“We’re continuing to develop ideas,” said Conner. “The staff is working hard to serve the public and accommodate whatever the needs are.”
Mathews has advertised a public hearing on the proposed 2020-2021 budget at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 13. The physical meeting place will be the historic courthouse, but the meeting will be partially electronic. For details on this upcoming meeting can be found in the legal advertisement on page 9B of this week’s paper.
Both counties are still operating under local emergency declarations, with offices and buildings remained closed to the public until further notice.
The emergency declaration is a precautionary security measure, which allows for the full powers of government to deal effectively with emergencies or hazardous weather conditions.
During this time, county staff remains committed to continuing services to the public to every extent possible, with a goal to open back to the public as soon as it is safe to do so, the Gloucester County release stated.
Conner said on Saturday that, while public access to Mathews County office buildings will continue to be restricted until further notice to limit exposure to the virus, that hasn’t stopped county employees from working. Updates and materials for cancelled meetings have gone out to board members and been shared on the county’s meeting portal, and efforts to make sure meetings can take place with public participation are expected to yield results soon.