In a brief meeting of the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners on Monday, the Commissioners considered an item to restore public comment to their regular meetings but made no decision.
Public comment was temporarily suspended under the state of emergency declared as of March 16, 2020.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most Oklahoma County meetings have been online using WebEx software since March. At the time of suspending public comment, each commissioner expressed their intention that such suspension of public participation was only to be temporary.
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District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert brought the new item to the agenda. The agenda item included language allowing people to make comment via telephone or videoconference.
In days past, to make comment on any item of the agenda, one would need to attend the Board’s meeting and fill out a form to be turned into the County Clerk before the start of the meeting.
District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey voiced concern about allowing people to sign up to speak online. “Anybody could sign up, regardless of who or where they are. We could have the American Communist Party or Nazis or any gang sign up to talk.”
District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan cited a recent eight hour meeting of the City Council of Oklahoma City wherein dozens of people called in. He said he didn’t anticipate that level of participation in a county meeting, but that one has to be prepared to accept it if the decision was made to allow online comment.
David B. Hooten, County Clerk, gave a brief explanation of how his office would be able to make online commenting work with the WebEx software, while underscoring some of Calvey’s concerns.
The District Attorney’s office, represented by Aaron Etherington, spoke off microphone on the topic. According to Commissioner Calvey’s recap of Etherington’s comments, the DA is unsure of statutory requirements. Her concern is that statute would require that if public comment was allowed in person, it would have to be allowed online.
Ultimately the Board voted to defer the matter to their Policy and Governance Committee for further research.
Reached for comment via text message after the meeting, Commissioner Blumert said, “As an elected official, you–the constituent–are my boss. We should always make it convenient and accessible for you to give us your comments, opinions, and ideas. I work for you. I hope we can agree on a way to make that happen soon, whether in person or virtual. COVID-19 is forcing us to be creative while we continue to serve the public.”
The Board will revisit this item in weeks to come.
Emergency Management gave an update stating that mosquito counts have been low and that Oklahoma County has had no cases of West Nile Virus so far this summer.
The BoCC voted in favor of transferring $853,434.85 in funds earmarked for the detention to the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) for operations of the Detention Center.
A contract was approved between the County and Kone Elevator so that an elevator technician will be on hand for several hours of each morning to maintain the much-maligned and beleaguered elevators in the Courthouse.
The next meeting of the Board of COunty Commissioners is Wednesday, August 12 at 9:00 a.m.
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