Day or night; 8 or 10 am?

Published 9:40 am Monday, December 13, 2010

GATESVIILE – The Gates County Commissioners want to know what better fits the public’s schedule – day or night meetings of the board.

Or would starting a day meeting earlier better fit the schedules of those county citizens that work for a living?

The aforementioned was part of a discussion held by the commissioners at their Dec. 6 meeting. The issue was brought before the board by newly seated Commissioner John Hora.

“Attendance at county commissioners’ meetings is quite disappointing. I’ve encouraged people to attend. I keep getting the same answer, ‘I have a job and can’t come to a meeting’,” Hora said in his opening remarks.

“You can’t blame a person who has a job as they are looking out for the financial well-being of their family,” he continued. “True, there are many citizens who don’t care what’s going on here until it affects them. I was one of those people. I worked at IP (International Paper) and my employer expected me to be at work. It wasn’t that I wasn’t concerned about what was going on (at commissioners’ meetings), I entrusted the people here to do those things, but I wanted to know what was going on.”

Hora stressed the importance of making it more attractive for county citizens to attend these meetings, to become involved in what’s going on in their county government.

“We have some very talented and smart people in Gates County; I want them to become involved; I want them to know what’s happening,” he said.

Hora added that the current meeting structure is not friendly for the working man or woman.

“Starting meetings at 10 o’clock; most people in our county work outside the county; if you stay for a whole meeting you’ve blown a whole day,” he noted.

Hora then offered solutions on how to address this issue.

“Try to make it more convenient for our citizens so they can become involved,” he said. “For day meetings, I’d like to see them begin at 8 a.m., at least then if it’s a two-hour meeting a citizen can get to work at a decent time and give their employer nearly a full day of work. Afternoon sessions, begin them at 4 p.m. and you eliminate the excuse of working.

“All meetings need to be taped and burnt on a CD and sell it for one dollar,” he added. “I’d rather have the people here engaged in our local government, but if they can’t be here, at least they’ll have a CD to listen to. By doing this you engage the young people.”

Hora noted that only a select few have the opportunity to serve as county commissioners.

“We can’t do this (work as county leaders) unless we are self-employed, privileged or retired,” he stated. “A young man with a private job doesn’t have the time to sit behind this table, but we still need to get those young adults involved. There are a lot of good ideas out there in this community.

“I work for you; you are my boss, I want to hear your ideas,” he continued. “I want to see more people at our meetings and the way we do that is to accommodate the working man and woman. I’d like to see us engage in discussion on this issue.”

“If we go to night meetings, we need to be mindful that some of our meetings go long…three, four, five hours,” Commissioner Henry Jordan said.

“Start with closed sessions at 4 p.m. and start the regular meeting earlier,” Hora suggested.

“The Board of Education does that now, begins with closed sessions at 6 p.m. and meets at 7 p.m.,” Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan said.

“I’d like to see us do a pro-con survey (on meeting times),” Commissioner Jack Owens stated. “It’s nice to have meetings where our county attorney is present. We have to talk about department heads, are we adding to their work.”

Owens added, “From experience, you can change a meeting to accommodate people and often you don’t see a change. You won’t know that necessarily (until you try it). The key thing with me is having the people we need at these meetings at the time we need them to be there. That would be paramount in my vote on which way we went with the times of our meetings.”

Owens also suggested taping the meetings and post that video to the county’s website.

“The worse thing we can do is have a night meeting where we have to table several issues because the people we need there for information are not present and then those issues are carried over to the next meeting,” Commission Chairman Graham Twine said. “Or we have a marathon night meeting and nothing gets accomplished.”

“We’ve had this discussion before (night meetings),” Twine added. “From that we opted to hold night meetings every other month to see what the attendance would look like. The only extra attendance we get is when there’s a key issue that folks want to talk about.”

Twine said the reasoning behind moving the day meetings from the first Monday of the month to the first Wednesday was in order to have the county attorney present. His job requires him to be in court on Mondays.

“I’m open minded on this; we need to discuss this more, but I do have some reservations with this issue,” Twine closed.

“I can go either way with this,” Jernigan said.

Commissioner Henry Jordan reminded his colleagues that the board makes every attempt to place items that require public hearings on the agenda at night meetings in order to better accommodate the citizens.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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