Commissioners hope earlier meet time spurs more public attendance


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Pasquotank County commissioners voted Monday to begin holding their evening meetings an hour earlier — a move they hope will encourage more public participation.

In a 4-3 vote, commissioners voted to hold their regular sessions at 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. Voting for the change were board Vice Chairman Lloyd Griffin and Commissioners Charles Jordan, Barry Overman and Sean Lavin.

Voting against the change were board Chairman Jeff Dixon and Commissioners Cecil Perry and Frankie Meads.

Commissioners meetings would still generally be held on the first and third Mondays of the month. A new, complete meeting schedule needs to be adopted before the change can occur, according to county Clerk Lynn Scott. That means the change would happen next month at the earliest, so commissioners' next meeting on Feb. 18 would still be at 7 p.m. Commissioners also invited public feedback on which time is better.

Commissioners started discussing changing their meeting time last week while attending a commissioners’ conference, and again during Monday's finance committee meeting, according to Griffin, who proposed moving the evening meeting up. He also proposed that finance committee meetings should still start at 4 p.m.

Overman and Lavin said they hoped holding an earlier meeting would be more convenient for the public. Some county residents don't want to drive back to Elizabeth City after work on Monday nights. Overman and Lavin said their thinking is that residents who get off work around 5 p.m. could more easily attend commissioners’ meetings at 6 p.m.

Speaking from his time as a school board member, Overman said many parents don't want to come back for a meeting at 7 p.m., noting doing so can interfere with settling kids down and getting them to bed.

Perry supported moving the finance committee meeting to 5 p.m., but leaving the regular meeting at 7 p.m. He said he felt it would be easier for people to attend at 7 p.m.

Offering his input, County Manager Sparty Hammett said staff could make either time work, but preferred 6 p.m. That doesn't keep employees at the courthouse as late after work. While Hammett, Scott and County Attorney Mike Cox attend all meetings, department heads and other employees only appear when needed.

Following the vote, Dixon said commissioners could always change their meeting time back to 7 p.m. if they decide it’s warranted.

Though commissioners said they hoped to encourage public participation, Griffin noted the public typically only attends for specific issues. The courthouse was filled for debates about solar and wind farms, animal welfare, and the courthouse's Confederate monument, but not for adopting last year's budget, he noted.

The county's budget talks have typically drawn comments about school funding and taxes. Those are big parts of the county’s annual budget, but the spending plan also includes funding for public safety, parks and recreation, the water utility, the landfill and other major services.

One way the county could improve public engagement in its meetings would be to televise or stream them, as Elizabeth City City Council and some other local boards do. In a followup email Tuesday, Scott said there’s been no discussion of that, nor has the county studied the cost of televising or streaming commissioners’ meetings.