Online county commission meetings will take public comment via phone

Alachua County is adapting its bi-monthly regular meetings to make sure safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic remain in place but that citizens can make still public comments.

County Attorney Sylvia Torres told the commission on April 7th that the ability to conduct the meetings via communications technology is warranted because of a recent executive order implemented by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Torres emphasized that the county is still required to advertise public meetings, and that public comment could be made in multiple ways such as via “Facebook, Zoom and call-in audio in case they don’t have internet.”

In an effort to hear from more citizens while not adding time to meetings, the commission agreed that public comment would now be no more than two minutes per person instead of the three minutes allotted in previous meetings. And comments will be taken for only 30 minutes during in each meeting, not until everyone is heard from in an effort to keep meeting lengths reasonable. 

Recent online meetings are getting record attendance, some reaching more than 8,000 viewers and they receive hundreds of comments and questions posted on the live Facebook feed.

The next regular meeting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on April 14th.

According to the new set up, the county will use a dedicated phone line with a message that announces there are two minutes to talk. Those messages will get played back to the commission during a 30-minute period.

Not every phone message is guaranteed to get addressed at the live meeting but all comments become part of public record, Torres said. 

Rules for the content of call-in messages remain the same as in-person comments. They must be relevant, not scandalous or repetitive. 

There will be one single open ended public comment section for 30 minutes followed by commission comment. And if there is a high interest subject on the agenda, Chair Robert Hutchinson can extend public comment period if he deems it necessary.

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