Public hearing on county's proposed budget hindered by virtual audio issues

Posted 5/19/21

Technical difficulties with the virtual offering of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting Monday night prevented remote attendees from hearing the majority of meeting …

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Public hearing on county's proposed budget hindered by virtual audio issues

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Technical difficulties with the virtual offering of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting Monday night prevented remote attendees from hearing the majority of meeting business.

The meeting was supposed to include a public hearing on the county’s recommended budget, first presented two weeks ago. But two people who signed up to speak remotely couldn’t speak because of the audio glitches. One person who signed up to speak in-person did not show up, county Public Information Officer Kara Dudley said. All comments were submitted before the meeting to be entered into public record, she said.

Those comments included requests to prioritize conservation of Chatham’s natural resources and “necessary improvements” to the Bynum Mill site and trail along the Haw River to Route 6 in this year’s budget. There will be no additional public hearing on the budget, but people can submit written comments or given them in-person, Board Clerk Lindsay Ray said in an email to the News + Record.

Dudley sent an email regarding Monday’s meeting alerting the public to the technology issues 30 minutes before it was set to begin.

“There is no legal requirement for the County to provide an online version of the meeting,” that email said. “The public is still welcome to attend the meeting in person at the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center… County staff are working to address the technical issues and appreciate the public’s patience.”

Monday’s audio glitches followed months of poor online audio quality of board meetings, but this was the first meeting in which discussion and presentations were rendered almost entirely unintelligible — with the exception of BOC Chairperson Mike Dasher’s comments and the clerk’s report at the end of the meeting. The chat feature on the GoToWebinar video platform streaming the meeting included several complaints about the poor audio.

“As you know, remote listeners cannot hear anyone speaking,” one attendee sent in the chat. “Will the audio of the recording of the meeting that will be posted online afterwards be better so that we can listen to the meeting later?”

“The audio is being recorded on a handheld digital recorder,” Ray responded in the chat. “I am unable to put that online. Residents are welcome to request a copy which will have to be put on a flash drive and mailed or picked up from our office.”

She added that the county could not hear remote speakers, but that residents could submit comments to her via email at lindsay.ray@chathamcountync.gov.

The county is not required to record the meeting, Ray said, but they started recording on the digital record 18 minutes into the session, during the middle of the budget hearing. Up to that point, the county had been re-presenting a slideshow previously shown to the commissioners about the budget.

“...I cannot promise the audio will be up to everyone’s standards but I use these recordings all the time for other meetings,” Ray said of the recording.

North Carolina law concerning the meetings of public bodies requires official business of a public body to be open to the public, with any person entitled to attend such a meeting. That law also requires remote meetings to be open to the public, though it does not require remote meetings to be offered.

Last spring, governing bodies across the country moved online to meet public meeting requirements while also meeting public health guidelines and gathering limits meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. As North Carolina opens up and gathering restrictions are no longer required, in-person attendance of meetings can increase.

The last few commissioners meetings were hosted in the exhibit hall at Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center with social distancing in place. Following Gov. Roy Cooper’s lifting of restrictions last week, there were no restrictions in place at Monday’s meeting. The board will return to the Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro on June 21, Ray said, and meet there without restrictions. Once those meetings resume, residents can watch a live stream of the meetings at https://chathamnc.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx, which can be viewed during the meeting or the following morning once the video is finalized.

The meeting included two legislative requests from Moncure Holdings and Moncure Holdings West, both of which were approved.

The first, a legislative public hearing for a general use rezoning, requested to rezone approximately 249.036 acres — parcels spanning from R-1 Residential to IH Heavy Industrial — located off Old U.S. 1, Pea Ridge Road, Christian Chapel Church Road, and Moncure Flatwood Road, Cape Fear Township. The second involved a request to amend Section 302 (E)(2)(b) of the Watershed Protection Ordinance “to establish an overlay district where the 10/70 option applies in the Cape Fear WS-IV Protected Area watershed district,” and to amend the Watershed Protection Map to establish the boundaries of the overlay district.

The board also heard two other requests: one from F-L Legacy Owner for subdivision Final Plat review and approval of 69 lots and 29.59 acres at The Legacy at Jordan Lake, and another by Kirk Metty for subdivision First Plat review and approval of 14 lots at Chestnut Creek on the corner of Jones Ferry Road, or 49.15 acres.

Neither request was voted on, as both motions failed for lack of a second and no vote was taken.

The board’s June 7 meeting was canceled due to no agenda items being submitted, so its next regular session meeting will take place June 21. The board is set to hold work sessions concerning the recommended budget on Thursday and Friday, as well as May 25 if needed.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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