Community

Virtual Council Meetings Allow Public Input

By Pete Zamplas

Hendersonville – Local governments are isolating their meetings but broadcasting them online to the public and allowing input, such as Asheville, Weaverville, Woodfin and with Hendersonville City Council’s meetings this afternoon and tomorrow morning.

Hendersonville’s electronic meeting begins at 5:45 pm on Thursday, May 7. Two public hearings are set. One is on a proposed limit of $11.5 million, for installment financing to build and equip a new police headquarters off Ashe Street. The other regards rezoning Jeff Justus’ lot at 1601 Old Spartanburg Rd. to C-3 highway business, which the Planning Board approved.

The next day, Friday at 8:30 am, a special Hendersonville budget review session will also be virtual.

Friday is when state stay-at-home orders are eased for some types of businesses, in the first of three expected phases. However, large gatherings such as public meetings are still to be done remotely and several social distancing guidelines to remain in effect.

The ongoing ban forbids the public from attending such meetings as government ones in-person, in the same room that officials are in but allows a few people spaced apart in nearby rooms — as Hendersonville is providing.

The City of Hendersonville’s message is: “Thank you for your patience as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances, with the ultimate goal of protecting the health of our citizens and slowing the spread of the Coronavirus.”

Hendersonville’s mayor is Barbara Volk. Jerry Smith is mayor pro tem. Other council members are Jeff Miller, and recently-elected Jennifer Hensley and Lyndsey Simpson.

Hendersonville Council will meet today (Thursday May 7th) in the City Operations Center’s large assembly room at 305 Williams Street, between First and Fourth avenues. That site is used when large crowds are anticipated. Going there keeps Council members out of City Hall, the usual meeting venue, as a health precaution amidst the Coronavirus outbreak.

Auxiliary Room

However, as many as ten citizens will be allowed on a first come/first serve basis into a separate, smaller Operations Center room where they can be spaced at least six feet apart. There, they can watch the meeting on a monitor and discuss issues among themselves. They can begin arriving at 5 pm, 45 minutes ahead of the meeting.

Allowing a few people in a separate room complies with meeting laws’ public feedback requirement, city Communications Manager Allison Nock noted. “The space is offered if people are unable to watch online, or call in to listen by (smart) phone.”

So far, no one has come to that auxiliary room for three virtual meetings. As a health precaution, citizens are not encouraged to come to the site.
Instead, citizens are urged to ask questions remotely. “People can submit them online, or call in,” Nock noted. Two people wrote comments ahead of the April 2 remote meeting, for a public hearing on proposed White Pine Villas. Ken Fitch favors it, for more affordable housing. Alexander Nelon wrote he opposes such further development and traffic congestion.

Hendersonville’s first streamed session was a special meeting on March 20. Few city staff were on hand, to minimize in-person contact. Council normally meets twice per month. The April 22 meeting was also a virtual one.

By last weekend, 44 people indicated on Facebook they will view the meeting today. People can watch it live and make comments via https://www.facebook.com/HVLNC, http://www.publicinput.com/hvlmeeting, or by calling (828) 233-2398 (code: 29856). Public written commenters must identify name and address, and submit the message by noon today (May 7) for the meeting today.
Asheville Meetings Remote

Asheville City Council is among many governments streaming meetings live. Asheville City Hall closed to the public March 17. The board streamed its special meeting of April 28. That was set up to consider authorizing the city manager to seek Federal Emergency Management funds, to “recover costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic event and to designate the applicant agents.”

Asheville’s agenda set aside up to an hour for public comments phoned into 259-5900, relating to agenda topics. Calls were limited to three minutes each, and due by 5 pm on the eve of the meeting.

Asheville City Council’s next regular meetings are May 12 and 26. The board normally meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, starting 5 pm. Asheville’s mayor is Esther Manheimer. Gwen Wisler is vice mayor. Other Council members are Brian Haynes, Vijay Kapoor, Julie Mayfield, Sheneika Smith and Keith Young. They each commented in a video on Facebook, thanking public workers for continuing most essential services. “We love you all,” Kapoor said. Smith said, “Hats off to those heroes.”

Wisler said she is sewing face masks, to give away.

Mayor Manheimer thanks citizens for “staying home, and staying safe, and making sure we’re flattening the curve” in virus cases.

She foresees in coming weeks the city will “slowly figure out how to operate, in our new normal” of permissible activities. Haynes urged the city cautiously “reassess what’s truly important, and strive for a better future.”

Young said in these “tough times,” that “we got this.” Mayfield said she misses seeing citizens at meetings, “to solve problems with you.”
Check ashevillenc.gov, for more info. For updates on city facility restrictions and status of meetings and public health links, check such pages as hendersonvillenc.gov/coronavirus.

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