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Government meetings go remote, focus on social distancing

Though the COVID-19 crisis has brought many aspects of daily life to a grinding halt, the wheels of local government continue to turn, albeit in a slightly different way.

Across Beaufort County, local governments are taking alternative approaches to conducting meetings. While some are meeting remotely, via teleconferencing or dial-in services, others have canceled or postponed their meetings altogether for April.

BEAUFORT COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

Meeting this past Monday, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners continued to gather in person, although seating arrangements were shifted to place six feet of space between members. County Manager Brian Alligood says this model will likely continue for the time being.

“I anticipate we will continue with the in-person format with appropriate social distancing unless the chairman wants to do something different,” Alligood wrote. “We did let commissioners know that if they were not comfortable with attending that we could arrange for them to call into the meeting. No one asked to do that. Commissioner Richardson voiced his opposition to electronic meetings.”

As for the county’s budget process, Alligood says the current situation may present some challenges, but he anticipates being able to work around them.

“It may add some additional time to the process due to space limitations and scheduling,” he wrote.

BEAUFORT COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION

The Beaufort County Board of Education continued to meet this week, though that group chose to do so via the online Zoom teleconferencing platform. While it was a new experience for the board, Board of Education Chairwoman Carolyn Walker said she was pleased with the results.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Walker said. “It went really well. All nine board members were able to join, as well as other people within the leadership team. It was recorded, so there’s a record of it.”

Walker says the board has tabled its budget discussions for now, but will likely have more virtual discussions on the budget as the process moves forward. Normally, the BOE has a joint meeting with commissioners to discuss the budget for the coming year, and she’s hoping to have the document together in plenty of time for commissioners to review before they have to pass their own.

BCS staff plan to post a video of the meeting on the school system’s website at www.beaufort.k12.nc.us.

BELHAVEN

In Belhaven, the Board of Aldermen’s regular monthly meetings will go on as scheduled in April, though everything will be done remotely. When the board meets Monday, it will use the Zoom platform, which is accessible via internet and phone.

The public can view/listen to the meeting online by visiting zoom.us/j/592602679, and entering the meeting ID number 592 602 679. They can also call in at 1-301-715-8592 or 1-253-215-8782 and enter that same meeting number. The meeting starts at 7 p.m., and participants are encouraged to join 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time. Public comments can be submitted via email to the town clerk by 5 p.m. Monday at townclerk@townofbelhaven.com.

FACE-TO-FACE ONLINE: This week’s meeting of the Washington Historic Preservation Council served as a test run for conducting remote meetings for the city’s advisory boards. (City of Washington)

WASHINGTON

Washington, meanwhile, will hold its regular meeting Monday in a hybrid format, with some members attending in person and others dialing in. The meeting will be streamed live both on the city’s Vimeo channel at vimeo.com/washingtonnc and its Facebook page @CityofWashingtonNC. Public comments can be submitted to cbennett@washingtonnc.gov prior to the meeting.

Earlier this week, Washington City Manager Johnathan Russell said the city had a test run of meeting virtually during the regular meeting of the Washington Historic Preservation Council. He said other boards will likely follow the same format this month.

“The HPC met this past Tuesday, and that went really well,” Russell said. “I think that was probably a historic moment for the city to have an advisory board meet virtually. Everyone’s comments and concerns were heard, there were discussions amongst board members and interaction with some of the applicants. I think it was effective and definitely something we can do again.”

AURORA AND WASHINGTON PARK

For the Aurora Board of Commissioners and the Washington Park Town Council, meetings continued as scheduled this week, as well. Aurora Mayor Clif Williams says the board there met by videoconference to discuss updates to the town’s water treatment plant, while Washington Park Town Clerk Dennie Dale said that group met in person, maintaining social distancing norms and wearing masks.

PANTEGO, BATH AND CHOCOWINITY

In each of these municipalities, officials say that April meetings were cancelled or postponed to a later date.