Warren County Commissioners have taken a stand against the use of Zoom meetings to conduct business and County Executive Jimmy Haley’s decision to close the administration building for in-person meetings.
“If we can send our kids to school, then I think we can meet as a governing body,” said Commissioner Steven Helton. “That’s my belief.”
During Monday night’s monthly session of the Warren County Commission, which was conducted via video online conferencing, Helton presented a resolution for the county’s August meeting to be held in person with face coverings and social distancing required.
The measure, said Helton, was presented due to recurring difficulties in conducting business such as webcam and audio not working, echoes during calls, difficulties accessing the meetings, dropped calls when commissioners use cellphones and not computers, and situations when attendees forget to mute their audio during the meeting.
“I feel like it’s our duty and responsibility to represent the county in a good manner,” said Helton. “One commissioner I talked to today said we need to set a good example of how to do things and their recommendation was not to meet. I think we can set a good example on how to meet by the wearing of facemasks and the guards placed. We can show people that we can go through life and continue to meet and continue to discuss business as needed.”
The measure gained support.
“For our last meeting, we had all that stuff done,” said Commissioner Gary Prater, in reference to the plastic placed between commissioners in the courtroom. “Not sure what it cost, but it wasn’t very much. There was a lot of work put into it. I don’t see why we couldn’t have our meeting there tonight. Y’all can see how difficult this is to hold these meetings on Zoom so I’m so glad somebody came up with a resolution for us to vote on so we can have our meetings back.”
Commissioners have the right to decide how they want to meet, says Helton.
“I reached out to Charles Curtiss and he contacted the legal team at CTAS regarding the legal aspect of what we are doing and whether we have the authority to make this decision. They have assured me that we do and even with the governor’s proclamation, it is our discretion whether we want to meet in person or not. The main reason I made the decision to try to push this forward was the quality of the meeting, I feel, has drastically decreased with the Zoom meeting.”
The measure found opposition after a conversation with Curtiss, the executive director of the Tennessee County Commissioners Associa-tion.
“I also reached out to Charles Curtiss,” said Commissioner Christy Ross. “He’s right, the governing body does have the right to make that decision, but the county executive holds the right to the building. He doesn’t have to let us meet there. Mr. Curtiss gave me a quote, ‘Don’t put people in harm’s way just to get your way. Just because you can meet in person doesn’t mean you should. Right now is a very dangerous time to meet in person for us all and especially in Warren County with numbers surging.’ He said he wouldn’t do it because you are exposing people needlessly and unnecessarily.”
County Executive Jimmy Haley was included in the Zoom meeting, but he did not comment on the measure. Nor did he comment on a statement by Helton that he had an alternate meeting place if Haley denied commissioners access to the building.
The resolution passed 18-4. In favor of the August session being held in person were Helton, Prater and Commissioners Michael Bell, Carl D. Bouldin, Carl E. Bouldin, David Dunlap, Randy England, Steve Glenn, Robert Hennessee, Ron Lee, Gary Martin, Scott Rubley, Tommy Savage, Tyrone Sparkman, Joseph Stotts, Phillip Stout, Cole Taylor, and Blaine Wilcher.
In favor of continuing to hold meetings via Zoom were Ross and Commissioners Carlene Brown, Deborah Evans and Daniel Owens.
Commissioner Lori Judkins abstained, due to her resignation from the commission effective July 31.